Jeannette Rankin Brigade


Jeannette Rankin Brigade




Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to a federal office in the United States when she won a seat in the House of Representatives from Montana in 1916. Rankin was a women’s rights activist and a pacifist who opposed U.S. military interventionism. Prior to her election to Congress, Rankin worked on women’s suffrage while a student at the University of Washington. Washington State granted women the right to vote in 1910. During the mid-1910s, Rankin worked as a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and played a role in helping women gain the right to vote in Montana in 1914. Her 1916 election to Congress came as the nation debated U.S. involvement in the First World War, which she opposed. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she famously said upon her election in 1916, “but I won’t be the last. In the House, Rankin played a key role in the national women’s suffrage movement and the ultimate passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment. After gerrymandering in Montana pushed her out of Congress in 1919, Rankin moved to Georgia in the 1920s and 1930s where she continued to speak nationally on peace and in favor of child labor laws, as well as the Sheppard-Towner Act, a social welfare program that benefitted women and children.

Rankin was elected to Congress from Montana a second time in 1940, again largely in opposition to U.S. intervention in the Second World War. Most notably, on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Rankin was the only House member to vote against the declaration of war on Japan, a vote that drew hisses from her all-male colleagues. "As a woman I can't go to war," she explained, "and I refuse to send anyone else.” Rankin abstained from voting on a declaration of war against Germany and Italy two days later. The positions effectively ended her congressional career. Asked years later if she regretted her actions, she replied, "Never. If you're against war, you're against war regardless of what happens. It's a wrong method of trying to settle a dispute.”

In the post-war period, Rankin travelled extensively, including to India several times, where she studied Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. Largely ignored by her own generation, a rising tide of younger anti-war and women’s liberation activists during the 1960s found new inspiration in Rankin’s life and activism. In January of 1968, the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, a coalition of various women’s liberation and peace groups, organized the Jeannette Rankin Peace Parade, an anti-war march from Union Station to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The group had formed the previous year when Rankin told a peace gathering in Atlanta on the same day that the U.S. death toll in Vietnam hit 10,000, “If we had 10,000 women who were willing to make the sacrifices that these boys had given their lives for – that we could stop the war.” The demonstration ran into opposition from Capitol Police, who invoked an 1882 law barring protests on Capitol grounds. It was the first time the law had ever been enforced. The demonstrators filed a legal grievance, but court action did not come by the day of the event. As a result, organizers decided not to go to the Capitol, which would be a violation of the law and might undermine their appeals to moderate women, wives and mothers. An estimated 5,000 women participated in the protest at Union Station, including folk singer, Judy Collins, Vel Phillips, Coretta Scott King and Dagmar Wilson, who gave speeches later at the nearby Omni Shoreham Hotel. Demonstrators held a sign stating, “End the War in Vietnam and the Social Crisis at Home.” As a former member of Congress, Rankin was allowed on the floor of the House, where she presented House Speaker, John McCormack, with a peace petition that demand Congress to withdraw troops from Vietnam, make reparations to the Vietnamese, and “refuse the insatiable demands of the military industrial complex.” She also met and spoke with Senate Leader, Mike Mansfield, who was also from Montana.

Some more militant women’s liberation advocates were displeased with the emphasis on respectability politics, mourning wives and mothers. Indeed, a Washington Post article about the protest afterward emphasized that it was “peaceful and ladylike.” In response to this emphasis, several hundred members of the Brigade, dressed in “miniskirts and high boots,” attempted to commandeer the microphone at the Omni and complained that King and Wilson had been invited to participate merely to appeal to “church women” in the demonstration. The splinter group then staged a funeral march at Arlington National Cemetery, where they paraded a dummy in “feminine getup” and “blonde curls,” to a funeral dirge “lamenting woman’s traditional role which encourages men to develop aggression and militarism to prove their masculinity.” A flyer the faction made and passed out to Rankin Brigade members stated:

“Don’t Bring Flowers...Do be prepared to sacrifice your traditional female roles. You have refused to hanky-wave boys off to war with admonitions to save the American Mom and Apple Pie. You have resisted your roles of supportive girl friends and tearful widows, receivers of regretful telegrams and worthless medals of honor. And now you must resist approaching Congress playing these same roles that are synonymous with powerlessness. We must not come as passive suppliants begging for favors, for power cooperates only with power. We must learn to fight the warmongers on their own terms, though they believe us capable only of rolling bandages. Until we have united into a force to be reckoned with, we will be patronized and ridiculed into total political ineffectiveness. So if you are really sincere about ending this war, join us tonight and in the future.”


Jeannette Rankin Brigade


Roz Payne


Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


ca. late-1967 or early-1968




Physical Object



Jeannette Rankin Brigade , “Jeannette Rankin Brigade,” Roz Payne Sixties Archive, accessed July 18, 2024,

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