Between the World War I years when many men were serving overseas and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the years 1910-1925 were full of firsts for women. Some firsts represented major changes in the opportunities open to women in American society and some were just stunts or examples of woman flexing their growing independence.
From military service to civil service to new occupations, these women were of interest to the American population at large. Women taking on new roles made the news nationwide.
Jeannette Pickering Rankin was the first woman to hold high government office in the United States when she won a seat in the United States Congress in 1916.
Rankin, born 1880, was the eldest daughter of a rancher and a schoolteacher near Missoula, Montana, on June 11, 1880. She graduated from Montana State University in 1902 and moved on to the New York School of Philanthropy (later the Columbia University School of Social Work). After working briefly as a social worker in Spokane, Washington, she entered the University of Washington in Seattle.
Rep. Jeanette Rankin of Montana, right with muff, reading The Suffragist (1917)
It was there that Rankin joined the local woman suffrage movement that achieved its goal in Washington State in 1910. She eventually became a professional lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Her speaking and organizing efforts helped Montana women gain the vote in 1914.
Rankin decided in 1916 to run for a House seat from Montana. Some woman suffrage leaders feared she would lose the race and hurt the cause nationally, but Rankin secures a GOP nomination for one of Montana’s two At-Large House seats on August 29, 1916.
She campaigned as a progressive, pledging to work for a woman suffrage amendment and emphasizing social welfare issues. A long time pacifist, Miss Rankin did not shy away from letting voters know how she felt about U.S. participation in the European war that had, by then, been raging for two years: “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.”
Rankin came in second place statewide so won one of Montana’s seats.
I was flipping through some older newspapers and saw a suffrage cartoon that gave me the idea of searching for old news items with the phrase “woman’s place is.”
Boy! There is a lot to pick from. I will have to revisit this set of documents from time to time, but this item jumped out at me and introduced me to a woman I had never heard of by the name of Jeannette Bates.
It was in the Chicago based The Day Book in 1917:
Chicago, January 10, 1917: Bosh! It was Jeannette Bates, woman lawyer, just appointed assistant attorney general of Illinois, who “boshed” a smiling “bosh” across a paper-Uttered desk in answer to the question: “Do you agree in the argument that woman will never attain an important place in law?”
Miss Bates has just taken a place
beside Congressman Jeannette Rankin in the political procession.
“Woman’s place is wherever she makes good,” said Miss Bates. “Some women will make good in the court; some in the kitchen.
“I know Clarence Darrow has just said the woman lawyer may not make a living in the law. Well, I know some, men lawyers whose living – made in the law is rather lean.
“Mr. Darrow said, ‘Women are too kind to succeed as corporation lawyers, they cannot fight the soulless trusts.
“But women have fought trusts,” declared Miss Bates. “Ida Tarbell’s heart never weakened her fighting qualities.
“To go back to this matter of making a living in the law. When I was teaching I made $1,200 a year. The first year I practiced law I made more than $1,200. Since I have been practicing I have acquired a comfortable, seven-room bungalow, a garden and chickens.
“As women are gaining more political power,” continued the woman who has the state of Illinois for a client, “the law rather than medicine or teaching is attracting women. We used to be told the ‘legal mind’ was a man monopoly. Women seem to be proving there are no monopolies in the professions.”
via The Day Book, January 9, 1917