As war in Europe loomed, Rankin turned her attention to work for peace, and in 1916, ran for one of the two seats in Congress from Montana as a Republican. Her brother served as campaign manager and helped finance the campaign. Jeannette Rankin won, though the papers first reported that she lost the election -- and Jeannette Rankin thus became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy.
Rankin used her fame and notoriety in this "famous first" position to work for peace and women's rights and against child labor, and to write a weekly newspaper column.
Only four days after taking office, Jeannette Rankin made history in yet another way: she voted against U.S. entry into World War I. She violated protocol by speaking during the roll call before casting her vote, announcing "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." Some of her colleagues in NAWSA -- notably Carrie Chapman Catt -- criticized her vote as opening the suffrage cause to criticism as impractical and sentimental.
Rankin did vote, later in her term, for several pro-war measures, as well as working for the political reforms including civil liberties, suffrage, birth control, equal pay and child welfare. In 1917, she opened the congressional debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which passed the House in 1917 and the Senate in 1918, to become the 19th Amendment after it was ratified by the states.
But Rankin's first anti-war vote sealed her political fate. When she was gerrymandered out of her district, she ran for the Senate, lost the primary, launched a third party race, and lost overwhelmingly.
After the war ended, Rankin continued to work for peace through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and also began work for the National Consumers' League. She worked, at the same time, on the staff of the American Civil Liberties Union.
After a brief return to Montana to hel...