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Jeannette Rankin: The First Woman in Congress

Following the 2018 midterm elections, a record 121 women will serve in the 116th United States Congress. This is a historic event, coming 102 years after Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of Congress, was elected in 1916. Best known for her votes against the United States’ participation in both World Wars, Rankin began her storied career of public service by serving as a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She believed that women ought to vote, not only so they could be equal citizens with men, but also because she believed that female voters would be more likely to support peace.   Objective:

  • Students will examine the life of Jeannette Rankin and analyze her devotion to pacifism
  • Students will assess the value of diversity in a representative political body


  Warm-Up Activity: 15 Minutes Directions: Have students write down their thoughts on the following prompt and be prepared to share with the class. Prompt: “Peace is a woman’s job.” What are your reactions to this statement? After class discussion, share with students that Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of Congress, spoke these words in 1921.   Activity: 30 minutes Directions: Have students read Handout A and answer the following questions.

  1. Why did Jeannette Rankin run for Congress initially?
  2. Why did Rankin run for Congress the second time? What differences are there between her two platforms? Why do you think she changed?

Directions: Have students read the specified section of Handout B (starting with the last line of page 34 and ending through footnote #24 on page 35) and answer the following questions.

  1. Why does Rankin believe that “the peace problem is a woman’s problem”?
  2. What differences does Rankin believe to exist between men and women? Does this make one gender more capable at certain tasks in her eyes?

  Discussion: 20 minutes Directions: Lead your class in a discussion about the values of diversity. Use the questions below to help guide the conversation. Questions to Consider:

  • What benefits come from diverse viewpoints?
  • Why is it important for a female voice to be heard in Congress?
  • What are some specific issues in the modern day that can be better addressed with additional women serving in the legislature?