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Four Years Before Women Had the Right to Vote, Jeannette Rankin Was Elected to Congress

In 1916, four years before the Constitution recognized her right to vote, Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress. While women had not achieved suffrage across the U.S. yet, there were no laws barring them from holding office in the Capitol. So Rankin, with her belief that “men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both,” set out to fight for change for women from within the government.

Rankin was sworn in as a representative from Montana in April 1917.

She had helped secure women the right to vote in her home state three years earlier and had intended to bring the fight to the rest of the nation early in her term. The 65th Congress would not have a normal session that year, though, and not only would Rankin’s plans be derailed, but another of her convictions – her anti-war sentiment – would be tested and become the focal point of her term.

Just Say No

World War I was raging in Europe, and just before Congress convened that spring, Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all Atlantic shipping. Woodrow Wilson had requested Congress declare war against Germany, but Americans and their representatives were still divided on whether the U.S. should enter the conflict. The government was wary of foreign entanglements, but with the news of submarine warfare on American interests, many moods on Capitol Hill shifted quickly.

Rankin’s had not. She’d campaigned on a pacifist platform and was not about to change her mind on the matter. Just a month into her term, the House voted on a resolution to enter the war. When the roll call first came on the vote, Rankin remained silent. Representative Joe Cannon of Illinois approached her on the floor afterward and advised her, “Little woman, you cannot afford not to vote. You represent the womanhood of the country in the American Congress.”

On the second roll call, she voted “no” and entered a comment with her vote, stating: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.” Forty-nine others voted with her, but the war was on, and Rankin took criticism from war hawks nationwide for the duration of the conflict. Even suffrage groups dropped their support of her, though they would later come out against the war.

The publicity and the unpopularity of her beliefs did not seem to faze Rankin. She got right to securing suffrage for women, opening the congressional debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment later that year. Just three years later, the 19th Amendment was ratified and gave women nationwide the right to vote. Rankin, ironically, did not even get to vote on the amendment; she was no longer in Congress at the time. By the end, the public had overwhelmingly come to support the war, and when Rankin’s term was over the year before, her pacifism cost her both reelection to the House and a Senate campaign. The amendment she’d worked so hard on was voted on—and passed—by an all-male Congress.

Out of Office

Rankin worked in the private sector for a few years and returned to Congress in 1939. This time, she was joined by five other women in the House and two in the Senate. Two years later, on a day that would live in infamy, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The morning after, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke before a Joint Session of Congress and called for a formal declaration of war on Japan. The Senate obliged in less than an hour and the House leaders felt pressure to follow suit. During the vote, Rankin commented, “as a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”  The final vote was 388-1, with Rankin as the sole dissenter.

Rankin’s public image suffered and she was denounced by both the press and other politicians. She knew her pacifism would, as it had decades before, cost her re-election. When her term was up, she didn't even run.

Even after her political career ended, Ranking continued to further the cause of pacifism. In the late 1960s, she protested the Vietnam War at marches in Washington. She died in the spring of 1973,  just two years before Saigon fell and the US pulled out of Vietnam.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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