America's First Congresswoman

We hear much about Hillary Clinton as someone breaking through barriers for women. Here's a test. Who was America's first congresswoman, and which party did she belong to? One brave Republican woman: Jeanette Rankin.

How many feminists know that Montana's groundbreaker, born in 1880, trimmed her own hats, but was still gutsy enough to -- I quote -- tramp "through deep snow potting bears and wolves for pastime"? [i] (Loud claps and laugher.)

How many journalists are aware that Miss Rankin, a seamstress, made her own clothes, cooked excellent meals, and "endured all the hardships of pioneers" with her sisters in Montana's wilderness? [ii]

I especially like the fact that Rankin, the fighter, could verbally bludgeon Democrats, but "enjoyed being heckled by the crowds" because "she always had a good comeback."[iii]

The year was 1916. Not surprisingly, the Fort Wayne Daily News correctly observed that even "after entering politics" Miss Rankin "refused to forsake the old household arts, cooking and needlework." [iv]

In the pre-Clinton years, the Congresswoman didn't see why femininity, couldn't walk hand in hand with a career. But, in addition to being ladylike and genuinely independent, Rankin was also cool before the word "cool" was prostituted by stay-at-home beatniks.

Indeed, in 1916, the Fort Wayne Daily News (November 11) matter-of-factly reported:

Miss Rankin failed to become excited when returns showed she was running ahead of the republican ticket in Montana and later that she was elected. "I'm glad of this chance," was her comment when cheering friends "broke the news."

"Of course," said Miss Rankin today. "I know I'll be the first woman member of Congress but I won't be the last and I believe I'll be received with courtesy and as an equal by those eastern congressmen, even though they are enemies of suffrage.

Most controversially, America's first congresswoman would take sharp questions from journalists, while sewing, of course. She (as seen below) was no Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, the Democrat
Jeanette Rankin, the Republican

Early Years: Hillary's childhood home at 235 Wisner Street, Park Ridge, in outer Chicago, was a leafy and safe environment.

Early Years: Jeanette's family "endured all the hardships of pioneers" and took dominion over Montana's wild beasts. [v]

Education: Hillary enjoyed the private elite halls of Wellesley College, and made it into Yale Law School, afterward mysteriously failing the DC bar exam.  

Education: Jeanette studied with the boys, graduated from the University of Montana at Missoula, in 1902, and went onto study at the School of Philanthropy, NYC.   

Campaigns: Clinton cashed in on her husband's name brand, made millions off her ghostwriters, and cried for reporters.

Campaigns: Jeanette's successful campaign was boosted, in large part, by her sharp intellect, and grassroots activism. 

Immersed in the Gospel of Clintonesia, however, today's fawning reporters paint Hillary as a "groundbreaker." Or, society's brave soul. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton bemoans that it is "hard" being a woman candidate for president, while jetting around on a chartered plane and staying in the finest hotels.

And, while genuine critics attacked Rankin's anti-WWI arguments, for instance, they never criticized her sincerity. Or bravery. Historians cannot say the same about Hillary.

In reality, Rankin's libertarian views, back then, were most unpopular in socially elite circles, nor was she necessarily wrong. Or, weak. Or, nuts (as seen below).

President Wilson, the Democrat
Congresswoman Rankin, the Republican

Health: Wilson, a shirty and neurotic Democrat, suffered a series of strokes (concealed by his enablers), which led his physician to concede that, "He is permanently ill physically, is gradually weakening mentally, and can't recover."   [vi]

Health: Rankin was mentally and physically fit, and lived a long, productive life (1880-1973). Described as energetic "young, attractive, quick, bright and intelligent looking" with a "well balanced mind," she gave Wilson's base the runs.[vii

Mental Stamina: Sigmund Freud famously observed that after WWI, "His [President Wilson's] mental life from April to September 1919, when he collapsed completely and permanently was a wild flight from fact." [viii]

Mental Stamina: In Gov. Thomas Judge's "Jeanette Rankin Day" proclamation speech, he honored "the first woman in the world to be elected to a parliamentary body" because she was, according to local historians, "50 years ahead of her time." [ix]

Leadership: Wilson's second wife, Edith, conspired to take Washington's reins, and was running a "petticoat government" for 17 months. But, in addition to forging Wilson's signature on bills, she was making orders to sack cabinet members. [x]

Leadership: Evidently, Rankin felt that America's Republicans were willing to vote for powerful women in 1916. She was right. Unlike, Edith, the First Lady; Rankin, a workaholic, reached her position through real sweat and jeers.

Yet, neither the Republican Congresswoman, nor her enemies were prepared for history's sharp turns. By the 1930s, 70 percent of citizens polled, regretted Wilson's war, and the loss of 120,000 American lives.  [xi]So, isn't it time to face up to the comparable facts of political life? Republicans fight security threats. Democrats marry them. And, is Rankin's "hysteria" the central issue, or Wilson's?  I, for one, can't imagine Hillary tramping "through deep snow potting bears and wolves" either. Can Katie Couric?

[i] "First Congresswoman Trims Own Hats, Makes Her Clothes and Can Cook, Too" The Fort Wayne News, Saturday Evening, November 11, 1916, page 3.  

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid, page 1.

[iv] Ibid, page 3.

[v] Ibid, page 3.

[vi] Paul Johnson, "Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties," Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1991, page 33.

[vii] The Fort Wayne News, page 3.

[viii] Cited in Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D., "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," Regenery, 2004, page 130.

[ix] "Today is Jeanette Rankin Day," The Independent Record (Montana), November 7, 1976, page 6.

[x] Paul Johnson, ibid, page 33.

[xi] Thomas E. Woods, ibid, page 174.