THE FIRST AND ONLY
AS FIELD SECRETARY FOR THE NATIONAL AMERICAN WOMAN SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION, Jeannette Rankin was no stranger to public life. Yet when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana in 1916, the press ignored her. Women couldn't even vote in most states, so journalists must have thought it ludicrous for a woman to seek election to Congress. Even the New York Times thought it such a dim possibility that editors returned Rankin's biographical material before the election. Yet Rankin's candidacy caught the imagination of many, who saw in her a symbol of the right to vote and be heard. Montana had allowed women to vote in 1914, but Congress would not approve a constitutional amendment providing suffrage nationwide until 1918. Ratification by the states wasn't finished until 1920.
Rankin ran as a Republican because her father and brother were Republicans, but her campaign platform differed somewhat from that of the Republican Party. Her main interests were in preserving peace, passing an amendment to the Constitution to give women voting rights, and enacting legislation to protect children. Montana was sparsely populated and represented in Congress by two members-at-large rather than by district representatives. So Rankin had to promote her candidacy in small towns and villages spread over a vast area.
The press could have helped her spread her message, but she had a hard time getting any media coverage at all. Montana newspapers were controlled by the powerful Anaconda Copper Company in league with liquor interests. They suspected Rankin of siding with the labor union and also saw that Rankin might not be an easy politician to control. But they also thought she stood little chance of winning, so basically newspapers ignored her campaign. In so doing, the newspapers reflected the views of many people, who refused to believe that a woman could be capable of serving in Washington.
As Rankin's brother Wellington, also her campaign manager, wrote to her, "I am shocked at the prejudice that exists against a woman going to Congress." One of the few papers to endorse her candidacy strongly was the Montana Progressive, which felt that Rankin shared its editorial beliefs. In fact,