Jeannette Rankin was born in Missoula 141 years ago on June 11, 1880. While many of us are familiar with her political history and votes for peace during both world wars, there is much more to her story. A woman of great conviction and courage, Rankin observed life at the turn of the last century with a deep sense of empathy for the women, children and families who lived in poverty and without legal protections. After graduating from the University of Montana, her experiences and observations from Boston to Seattle and beyond inspired her to take direct action for a more just society. Ultimately, her commitment to humanity and equality helped shape our democracy and continues to make a tangible impact.
While working in San Francisco, she noted “women suffered from the oppression of bigoted and antiquated laws and a total lack of legal protection.” Later working as a social worker in orphanages in Spokane and Seattle, she realized that reform would not come from within institutions but by influencing the laws which governed them. The suffrage spirit sparked within her. In 1913, she led the suffrage movement in Montana, and a year later Montana became the 10th state to grant women the right to vote. In November 1916, Rankin ran and won to represent Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives — the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
In 1919, Rankin cast the vote that changed history for all American women. Serving as the sole female in the U.S. House of Representatives, she was the only woman to vote on the resolution for the 19th amendment that would grant women the national right to vote when ratified by the states in 1920.
In celebration of Rankin’s birthday this month, the Jeannette Rankin Foundation encourages you to “Vote for Jeannette” in the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters program. By nominating Rankin to be featured on the American quarter, we can memorialize and celebrate Rankin’s enduring legacy.
The U.S. Mint is gathering rolling nominations from the public for 20 American women to be honored on coins issued under the American Women Quarters program, a partnership of the National Women's History Museum, the Smithsonian Institution American Women's History Initiative and the Bipartisan Women's Caucus. Maya Angelou and Dr. Sally Ride will be the first distinguished American women stamped on the program’s quarters, with five women a year selected over the next four years. We believe that Jeannette Rankin deserves to be included among the ranks of these prestigious women.
In addition to serving two terms in the U.S. Congress, Rankin devoted her entire life to advocating for the well-being of women and children and world peace. The Jeannette Rankin Foundation is the living legacy of our namesake. When Rankin passed away in 1973 at the age of 92, proceeds from her estate in Georgia, where she lived much of her life, were set aside under Rankin’s request to help “mature unemployed women workers.” A group of her closest friends used the funds to create our foundation with the mission to provide scholarships and support for low-income women ages 35 and older so that they may build better lives through post-secondary education. Today, thanks to Rankins’s seed money and the generosity of countless donors, we have awarded $3.6 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 women across the country.
We think that deserves a “Vote for Jeannette!” How about you? Please join us in nominating Jeannette Rankin for the American quarter. You can learn more about the American Women Quarters program and submit your nomination at rankinfoundation.org/voteforjeannette.
Karen Sterk is CEO of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation. Awarding low-income women aged 35 and older scholarships and support for their post-secondary education, the Jeannette Rankin Foundation has impacted generations of individual lives and families to build better futures for themselves and their communities.