by Jeanne Gehret

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Susan B. Anthony and Jeannette Rankin were two trailblazers who left an indelible mark on the world. Although separated by time and geography, these two women had the same passion for making women’s voices count. They blazed a trail that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote for the first time.

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Jeannette Rankin

On June 11, we celebrate the birth of Jeannette Rankin, pictured here.

Susan B. Anthony and the battle for women’s rights

Susan B. Anthony was born in Massachusetts in 1820 to a family committed to equal rights for all. She is best known for her involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. However, in her early years, she worked tirelessly to end slavery and demanded stronger liquor laws. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she founded an organization that became the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and traveled the country to rally support for the cause.

Anthony and her colleagues overcame many obstacles that later feminists never had to face:

  • Neither Stanton nor Anthony had a college degree because few schools of their era would admit women. When they did, female education was often unequal to that of men
  • They had to petition male voters to endorse women’s rights because not a single woman held an elected position, and few females held any positions of authority.
  • Women of their period caused a scandal and even violence when they gave speeches in mixed company. The (male) Sons of Temperance, for whom Susan did considerable fundraising in the 1850s, banned her from speaking because “the sisters were invited to listen and to learn, not to speak.” (Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, p. 65)

Anthony’s passion for her cause carried her through these and many other difficulties such as the continual struggle to finance her campaigns. Despite those challenges, she never gave up and was a driving force behind the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment. Anthony was a trailblazer who helped open the door for women to have a say in their government. Her legacy lives on in the countless women she inspired to fight for their rights and demand a better future.

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Photo by Jill Wellington, Pixabay

Jeannette Rankin: first woman in Congress

Born in Montana in 1880, Jeannette Rankin holds the honor of serving as the first woman ever elected to Congress. She graduated from Montana State University in biology and received her master’s degree from the New York School of Philanthropy. Originally employed as a social worker, she quickly realized that she wanted to work on a more global level than helping one person at a time.

Her political work began as a campaigner for NAWSA, the same women’s suffrage organization that Anthony and Stanton led. She believed that women should have the right to express their opinion on political issues and have a say in the government. On her first day in Congress, “a 25-car motorcade took Rankin to the NAWSA’s headquarters where she spoke to an excited crowd. Shortly afterward, Rankin’s Montana colleague John Evans escorted her into the House Chamber.”

Though she enjoyed great popularity for her stance on women, she received strong criticism for championing peace during the First and Second World Wars. According to the United States House of Representatives, Rankin in January 1918 introduced a women’s suffrage measure by asking Congress, “’How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?’ The resolution, which required a two-thirds vote in favor, narrowly passed the House . . . amid the cheers of women in the galleries—the first time a women’s suffrage measure had passed either chamber of Congress—though it later died in the Senate. In 1920, however, Congress passed the same suffrage resolution by overwhelming margins. Women had won the right to vote nationally.”

Courage of her convictions

Rankin eventually lost her seat in the House due to her pacifist ideas. Even NAWSA failed to support her re-election. After leaving Congress, she worked to ensure safer conditions and establish shorter work days for working women.

Responding to the looming crisis of World War II in 1940, she campaigned and won a seat on Capitol Hill again. This time, however, she was not alone: six other women joined her as elected representatives. On Dec 8, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Congress had to vote about entering the War. Her “no” vote was met with hisses and boos. “As reporters and Members crowded around her on the floor, Rankin huddled in a phone booth in the Republican cloakroom before police officers escorted her to her office.” She did not run for re-election in 1942.

Overcoming Adversity to Achieve Success

Both Susan B. Anthony and Jeannette Rankin overcame adversity to achieve success. Their commitment to their causes was unwavering, and they both achieved success in their respective fights for women’s rights.

Pioneers in their own right, both activists left legacies that live on in the countless women they have inspired. They both fought for social justice and women’s rights, and their courage and determination helped pave the way for a better future for women. These two trailblazers are a testament to the power of perseverance and the importance of standing up for what is right.

As readers of this blog, you’re probably well aware of Susan B.’s contributions to woman suffrage. How familiar were you with the name of Jeannette Rankin? Do you think she should have toned down her pacifist ideas to help women more?

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