Our Only Congresswoman


Our Only Congresswoman


As Congress debated whether the US should enter the Great War, Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt both lobbied their congresswoman. One wanted her to vote for the war, the other implored her to vote against. Thread.

Technically, Jeannette Rankin wasn’t their congresswoman: neither lived in Montana. But in 1917 she was the only representative of one-half the people, and both Catt’s NAWSA and Paul’s National Woman’s Party knew that however she voted, she would be heard to speak for all women.

Their conflict reflected two different rationales for suffrage. Should women vote because they were the same as men - equally patriotic and deserving? Or because they were inherently different and more peace-loving? NAWSA wanted Rankin to vote yes, to prove women's patriotism.

Alice Paul had visited the day before to convince her otherwise. Paul recalled later: “We thought it would be a tragedy for the first woman ever in Congress to vote for war; the one thing that seemed to us so clear was the women were the peace-loving half of the world, and that by giving power to women we would diminish the possibilities of war.”

After days of debate, the House roll call took place after midnight on April 6. When Rankin’s name was called, she spoke so softly that at first her vote wasn’t recorded.

@TinaCassidy2 describes the scene on the floor as Rep. Cannon, the former Speaker of the House, took Rankin aside. “Little woman, you cannot afford not to vote. You represent the womanhood of the country in the American Congress. I shall not advise you how to vote, but you should vote one way or the other--as your conscience dictates.”

On the second roll call, Rankin spoke clearly: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote no.”

Carrie Catt didn’t criticize Rankin by name, saying she had honorably voted her conscience. But she made clear that Congresswoman Rankin didn’t speak for suffragists: NAWSA did.

#suffrage100 #19thAmendment


Daily Suffragist


Sept 14, 2020


Sept 13, 2020.png


Daily Suffragist, “Our Only Congresswoman,” Daily Suffragist, accessed September 27, 2022, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/508.

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