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)

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.

After winning her seat she became well-known nationally and many people were curious about her. The following article ran in Chicago’s The Day Book in early 1917.


BY MRS. MINNA S. PARKS, Character Analyst

A head survey of Miss Jeanette Rankin shows that her colleagues may expect tireless work, high devotion to cause, prudence, self control and probably sarcasm and lack of humor from the first woman to enter congress.

Her sharp, acid temperament indicates that she will see flaws everywhere and that she is apt to be decidedly critical.

Strength of character, self reliance, high ambition to excel in intellectual channels and an eagerness for the acquisition and diffusion of knowledge are all clearly indicated in the features.

Temperamentally she is a combination of motive-mental, each driving the other ceaselessly, hitting at poor health and an exhaustion of energies.

The long, thin nose gives thoughtfulness, speculation, close analysis of life and problems; the long neck, independence and pride; the firm, strong jaw, strength of character, and the long upper lip, determination.

Leadership is hinted at in the long bridge of the nose, the trace of white under the iris bespeaks control of people and the prominence of the eyes, the command of language.

Her physiognomy destined her to a scope of influence and activity far above the provincial.

The long line of the jaw, indicating concentration on whatever she undertakes, in conjunction with other qualities above enumerated, suggests that Miss Rankin will be a conservative, studious, indefatigable worker for her ideals in public life.

Culture – blood – shows in all her lineaments, and alertness, like the mettle of the racehorse, is tokened by the soft, fine hair.

The straight, thin lips advertise firmness, self-control and business ability, all keyed to the intellectual by her dominating mental temperament.

Invariably, people whose features are keen-edged like Miss Rankin’s are incisive, critical, impatient of criticism and sarcastic.

The nose, showing prudence, thoughtfulness, alertness indicates that Miss Rankin will be a good parliamentarian in congress, that her work will be thorough and that she will not advocate a measure until it has been carefully analyzed.

Lack of the vital in her make-up, usually indicating a dearth of the friendly qualities, of good humor, of laughter and desire for more homely pleasures, would suggest austerity.

She would probably take a joke upon herself quite badly.

Summed up, the character indexes of Miss Rankin’s physiognomy, judged by her photograph, say she is essentially a teacher – serious, careful, untiring and whole-souled in her work, but too cautious and sensitive to be very original.

–The Day Book, February 12, 1917

The image below ran above Minna Park’s analysis.

Jeanette Rankin, Congresswoman

Jeanette Rankin, Congresswoman