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U.S. Representative Jeannette Rankin in 1920 with the U.S. flag that flew at the House of Representatives when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was approved, giving women the right to vote.
Bettmann/ Getty Images
Jeannette Rankin was born near the city of Missoula in 1880.
Jim McMahon
This image shows Jeannette Rankin (inset) with other members of the U.S. Congress in 1917.
Library of Congress
She Paved the Way
A century ago, Jeannette Rankin became the first female lawmaker in the U.S. Congress.

By Karen Kellaher

Being a member of the U.S. Congress is one of our nation’s most important jobs. These elected officials meet in Washington, D.C., to make America’s laws. But for our government’s first 128 years, all of these lawmakers were men.

In 1917, a woman named Jeannette Rankin changed that. She became the first woman to serve in Congress.

THE RIGHT TO VOTE

At the time Rankin was elected, most women didn’t even have the right to vote. The U.S. government didn’t grant (give or allow) women across the country this right until 1920. But Rankin’s home state, Montana, was one of a few states that let women vote sooner. Rankin and others there convinced state officials to let women vote starting in 1914. Two years later, Rankin ran for Congress. Both men and women in Montana voted for her, and she won.

Congress is made up of two parts—the House of Representatives and the Senate. Rankin represented (spoke or acted for others) her state in the House of Representatives from 1917 to 1919. She was elected to a second term in 1940.

INSPIRING OTHERS

When Rankin was elected, she said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” She was right. Before long, other women followed in her footsteps. Today, 104 of Congress’s 535 members are women.

U.S. Representative Grace Meng of New York is one of those women. She says that while it’s great that there are more women in Congress, there’s still more work to do. Even though half of the U.S. population is female, women still make up less than a quarter of Congress. Meng hopes Rankin’s story will inspire more girls to think about careers in government. “I want all kids—boys or girls—to know that the sky’s the limit,” she says. “You can do anything!”

This article first appeared in the February 13, 2017, issue of Scholastic News Edition 3.