Today, November 7, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the first woman, Jeannette Rankin, elected to the United States Congress. The ironic part of Rankin’s election is that it took place nearly four years before the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified.
When our Founding Fathers began forming our nation, many women also wanted to be included, but it wasn’t so for over a hundred years later.
In 1776, the Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia discussing America’s independence from Great Britain. As the men were mulling over the wording of what would become the Declaration of Independence, Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, wrote to him to ‘remember the ladies,’ John Adams responded in a typical male fashion, jokingly informing his wife that the Declaration states that ‘all men are created equal.’
In 1821, the first endowed school for girls, the Troy Female Seminary in New York is founded by Emma Hart Willard.
In 1833, females were allowed to invade a traditionally male college for the first time when Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio became the first coed college in America.
In 1836, abolitionist Sarah Grimké began speaking in public for the causes of abolishing slavery and for women’s suffrage. She was quickly silenced by male abolitionists who believed that a female public speaker was detrimental to their cause.
In 1837, eighty-one delegates from twelve states attend the first National Female Anti-Slavery Society meeting in New York.
In 1837, the first four-year women’s college, Mt. Holyoke College, is established in Massachusetts by Mary Lyon.
In 1839, Mississippi becomes first state to pass legislation to give married women rights to their property with the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act.
In 1840, a Women’s Convention against slavery was held in the US by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who were refused admittance to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
In 1841, Oberlin College awarded the first degrees to three female students.
In 1844, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association is formed by female textile workers in Massachusetts. Their first demand is 10-hour work days.
In 1848, Seneca Falls, New York hosts first women’s rights convention.
In 1851, women’s right convention held in Akron, Ohio is rocked by a speech from former slave Sojourner Truth.
In 1866, the American Equal Rights Association is formed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their goal is equal suffrage from women and blacks.
In 1868, the 14th Amendment is ratified. One of the provision is the definition of ‘citizens’ and ‘voters’ as ‘male.
In 1869, the women’s suffrage movement splits over reaction to the 14th and soon to be ratified 15th Amendments. The American Woman Suffrage Association is formed in Boston by Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell. The National Woman Suffrage Association, the more radical and activist organization was formed in New York by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1869, the Territory of Wyoming is formed. The organization of the territory contains a women’s suffrage provision.
In 1870, blacks gain rights under the ratification of the 15th Amendment.
During the 1872 presidential election, Sojourner Truth tries to vote in Battle Creek, Michigan, but is turned away. Susan B. Anthony also tries to vote and ends up being arrested in Rochester, New York.
In 1874, Annie Wittenmyer forms the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1878, an amendment giving women the right to vote is introduced into Congress, but is not acted upon.
In 1890, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association are merged as the National American Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton holding the lead position.
In 1893, Colorado becomes first state to pass an amendment that enfranchises women.
In 1896, the National Association of Colored Women is formed in Washington DC. One of the founders was Harriet Tubman.
In 1911, the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage is formed, mostly by a group of wealthy women and Catholic leaders including then renowned Cardinal Gibbons.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt is running for President on a Republican Party platform that included a woman suffrage provision for the first time in American history.
In 1913, the radical Congressional Union is formed by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
In 1914, the two-million-member National Federation of Women’s Clubs formally endorses the suffrage movement. With the help of women like Jeannette Rankin, Montana extended the right to vote to the women in the state.
In 1916, the Congressional Union becomes the National Women’s Party.
On this day, November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin won a seat in the United States House of Representatives and became the first woman elected to Congress.
Rankin was born on June 11, 1880 on a ranch near Missoula, Montana. Her parents raised her to think beyond the social norms. Rankin graduated from Montana State University in 1902 and then went on to attend the New York School of Philanthropy, which later became Columbia University School of Social Work.
After working as a social worker in Spokane, Washington, she attended the University of Washington and became an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement.
At the time of her election to Congress, Montana, the 4th largest state in country only had a population of around 470,000.
The first vote as a US Representative was whether or not the US would enter World War I. Rankin was a dedicated pacifist and voted against entering the war. Her no vote led many men to declare that women were not capable of handling the responsibilities of leading a nation. Her vote against the war led to her defeat in 1918.
In 1940, Rankin again ran for Congress and won a seat in the House of Representatives. Once again, Rankin was a member of Congress when the vote on whether or not to enter World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rankin cast the lone no vote and became the only member of Congress that voted on entering both world wars.
In January 1968, pacifist and former Congresswoman Rankin led a 5,000-person march in Washington DC protesting the Vietnam War.
On May 18, 1973, at the age of 92, Rankin was contemplating running for Congress again in order to protest the Vietnam War, but she died in her apartment in California.
Sources for the above includes: Today, August 18, 1920: Women Gain Voting Rights with 19th Amendment; Rankin, Jeannette; Jeannette Rankin Becomes First U.S. Congresswoman; Jeannette Rankin Biography; Jeannette Rankin 1880 – 1973; Jeannette Rankin; Ex-Rep. Jeanette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92;