Moral Courage Hero Jeanette Rankin EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Jeannette Rankin believed, “What one decides to do in crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident. If one hasn’t any philosophy in crises, others make the decision” (Lewis, 2011). This quote introduces us to the life of an amazing woman who dedicated her life to the rights of women, children, blue-collar workers, veterans and most importantly – peace. Many times in this paper, Jeanette’s own quotes will serve as the voice of her moral courage.
Born in an era of limited women’s rights, Jeannette Rankin challenged conventional thought about the influence and power of a woman. She was the first woman elected to Congress, and the only person to vote against both World Wars. MoralCourage. org lists Jeannette Rankin amongst history’s most courageous moral heroes. Jeanette used the power of virtue – instrumental (fortitude and courage) and moral (selflessness) – to create significant thought shifts about women, labor, poverty and peace. She serves as an ongoing inspiration for all people. JEANNETTE RANKIN MORAL COURAGE HERO Introduction
The purpose of this report is to examine the life of Jeannette Rankin and her stature as a Moral Courage Hero. In examining what attributes Jeannette processed to deserve this honorable title, I looked to the web site moralhero. org. This site skillfully describes the traits of a moral hero. “Being a hero is selflessly doing the best you can in a time of need. … almost all our heroes have all of the following five traits: education, compassion, networking, inspiration and sacrifice. ” This report will focus on four major components of Jeannette’s life that embrace the traits described by moralhero. rg: (1) What foundations formed her moral courage/values in her youth (education, compassion, family)? (2) How did she transition from a “country girl” to a social activist (education, networking, inspiration)? (3) What societal contributions did she accomplish during her life (compassion, sacrifice, inspiration)? (4) What are her lasting gifts to society (the culmination of a life committed to morals)? It is through this examination of behaviors and commitments that the true picture of Jeannette’s lasting social and moral contributions is measured. It will be easy to see that Jeannette Rankin is a Moral Courage Hero.
Foundations in Courage Family Jeannette Pickering Rankin was born to John Rankin and Olive Pickering Rankin on June 11, 1880 in Missoula, Montana. John Rankin was a hard-working, non-discriminatory man with only a 3rd grade education. Jeannette’s mother was Olive Pickering – a courageous, pioneer woman who traveled to Missoula in 1879 with only her sister as a companion. Imagine this young woman traveling to the wild territory of Montana only 74 years after Lewis and Clark had first seen the land! Olive was a schoolteacher who valued education and was one of Missoula’s first teachers.
One year after Olive arrived in Missoula, she and John married. Olive and John Rankin had seven children. Jeannette was the oldest. People remember that she was very determined and strong-willed. Her mother would say to her father, “If you take care of Jeannette, I will care for the rest of the children” (Smith, 2002, pg. 34). Perhaps some of this independence came inherently from her free-spirited parents! Jeannette only had one brother, Wellington. This is important because the lack of boys in the family gave Jeannette more latitude in developing her independent spirit.
Although strong-willed, Jeannette was very sensitive and cared deeply for people and the family pets. John and Olive Rankin did not emphasize religion or strict discipline in raising their children. Hard work was required, however. Everyone pulled their weight and the family became quite financially successful. When John Rankin died in 1904, Jeannette took a leadership role in caring for the needs of the younger siblings. This contributed to her compassion and devotion to help others. Environment An important factor in shaping Jeannette was being born in Missoula, Montana.
It is important to this report to understand the community where Jeannette grew up. It was a factor in the formation of her worldviews. John and Olive settled in a beautiful area of the Missoula valley called Grant Creek. Even to today, Grant Creek is a lush, tranquil setting that has a quiet sense of Jeannette’s world 130 years ago. Again, Lewis and Clark had visited the Missoula valley only 75 years before Jeannette was born. It was a vibrant, diverse community. John Rankin was amongst its first settlers and treated the local Native Americans as he would any other neighbor.
At that time, there was enough for everyone; poverty was a distant concept. Anyone who wanted to work and thrive could do so. This was where Jeannette formed her perspective of how the world can be. The relative equality that existed was a given right to all. Even today, Missoula is a liberal community with a high level of acceptance of diversity and free thought. Jeanette was among the first generation of non-Native Americans born to this valley. Socially, a significant issue affecting Montana at the time of Jeanette’s formative young adult years was the rise of the labor unions.
Butte, a major mining center, had just formed a Miners Union. This created wide divisions in politics around the state. This would have a great impact on Jeannette’s eventual election to Congress. Jeannette grew up in a blue-collar environment where hard work meant equal rights. The miners who gathered to make working conditions better inspired her. Education There was never a doubt that Jeannette would attend college. Jeannette’s father had played a role in starting Montana State University. Her mother had been a teacher.
Jeannette decided on biology because she liked the teacher (Smith, 2002, 42). She graduated from Montana State University (now the University of Montana) in 1902. Jeannette was a quiet, smart student who loved learning. She would spend a lifetime of learning through additional schooling and travel. After graduation, she took a trip to the east coast cities with two female classmates. This trip further increased a sense of independence and freethinking. Jeannette was evolving into an unusual young woman of her time – educated, well traveled, and raised in a dynamic, accepting society. Country Girl” to Social Activist First Forays into Social Responsibility In 1904, Jeannette traveled to the East coast to visit her brother Wellington, who attended Harvard Law School. Wellington would become a major influence on Jeannette’s political ambitions. He eventually became Attorney General in Montana, and contributed to Jeannette’s success. It was during this 1904 visit that Jeannette attended the Inauguration of President Theodore Roosevelt. On the East coast, Jeannette witnessed a distribution of wealth unlike anything she had seen in the West.
It shocked her. People lived in horrible tenements in filth and despair, while others lived with lavish wealth. The slums of Boston and New York horrified her. The immigrants had come to America hoping for a better life and instead they found the bowels of America’s cities. This was a period of “Social Darwinism”, an economic theory of survival of the fittest popular in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Jeanette was especially incensed at the conditions for woman and children. She could not understand how the rich could witness this and allow it.
This trip created the paradigm that would govern Jeannette’s social views from this point forward. She decided to do something about what she had witnessed on this east coast vacation. In 1905, Jeannette went to San Francisco to begin working in the settlement houses. These “houses” were typically large buildings within immigrant neighborhoods. They served the community by providing many types of services for low-income people. During her time here and in other cities, she formed friendships with women from the Suffrage movements. Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, became a good friend to Jeannette.
The Suffrage movement became another step in Jeannette’s social activism. After three years of serving in different roles in many cities helping the poor, Jeannette realized she needed a more formal education in social work. Her Bachelor of Science in Biology had not prepared her for the intense pain poor people were facing. In 1908, she enrolled in the New York School of Philanthropy, now known as the Columbia University School of Social Work. While attending school, she served the immigrant populations of the area. Part of her job was to try to place abandoned children.
Jeannette said of her work with orphans in New York: I will never forget it, Jeannette said sixty years later, her eyes darkening with pain. There wasn’t enough money. There were too many children; only a few could be placed. Half of them returned when people changed their minds. They had suffered so much from poverty, were in such ill health, had such bad habits, that nobody wanted them. They came back and wept in my office. (Smith, 2002, page 55) During the early 1900’s, the country was changing. A new socialist movement was arising in the midst of the deplorable conditions existing for immigrants, women and children.
Labor unions were on the rise. Between 1900 and 1908, labor union membership rose from one half million to over four million members (Smith, 2002, 50). African Americans were organizing to protest their social conditions. Very importantly for Jeannette, the Women’s Suffrage Movement was gaining momentum. It was through this effort that Jeannette saw the opportunity to stand up for medical care and fair social treatment of women and children. She realized that if she helped give all women the right to vote, it would allow for more voice in statutory reform in social issues.
Jeanette realized she needed to work on a broader scale for social reform than her efforts in settlement houses – this could occur through the suffrage movement. She said, “We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress” (Lewis, 2011). Jeannette changed her focus from social work to getting women the right to vote. She spent the next 6 years in this effort. Montana actually gave women this right in 1914, while the US constitutional right came in 1920. Much of this is due to Jeannette’s efforts. It was through her work in the Suffrage Movement that she considered a role in politics.
Jeannette realized that the only way to change society’s behavior toward the less advantaged was through statutory reform. By this time, her brother Wellington had graduated from college and had moved back to Montana. He agreed to help her fund her campaign. Jeannette ran as a Republican because of her brother’s political affiliation. Her thought on this was, “I never was a Republican… I ran on the Republican ticket” (Woeflfe, 2007, page 33). Ironically, the women she worked with in getting women the right to vote, discouraged her from running for office. She lost many friends doing this.
The Suffrage woman thought running for office was too big a step and that society would think it too aggressive (Lewis, 2011, par 9). Jeannette did it anyways. With her family’s help, Jeannette won the election on November 6, 1916. With her victory came the decision that would define Jeannette for the rest of her life. A Life of Social Achievement First Term of Congress Within only four days of being sworn in to office, the vote to enter WWI occurred. Jeannette was under tremendous pressure to vote for the war. Her family, Suffrage friends and constituents urged her to vote yes.
Breaking the Congressional tradition of a simple “Yay” or “Nay,” Jeannette said, “I want to stand by my country. But I cannot vote for war. I vote NO” (Smith, 2002, p. 112). Controversy immediately erupted around her every move. The media portrayed her as a weak woman who had cast a weak vote, shaming the suffrage movement. The Helena Independent (Montana newspaper) printed (she is), “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl” (1918). Jeanette received hate mail and lost more friends.
In spite of her opposition to the war, she became a strong advocate for veterans’ rights. Jeanette first introduced the GI Bill to Congress, which guaranteed post-discharge education and other benefits to those who served in the military (jpc. org, 2011). As the first woman to serve in Congress, Jeannette felt it her duty to continue the suffrage fight. In 1917, she advocated the creation of a Committee on Woman Suffrage. Upon its creation, she joined group. Jeannette opened the very first House Floor debate on this subject. How shall we answer the challenge gentlemen, she asked? How hall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country (Josephson, 1974, pp. 93-94)? The resolution narrowly passed in the House and then died in the Senate. Jeannette worked to give a voice to social issues such as for political reforms in civil liberties, birth control, equal pay and child welfare. She was a leader in the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, also called the Maternity Act. Jeannette introduced the bill in 1919; it passed in 1921 after she left Congress.
This was landmark legislation, providing for federal funding for social services. Its purpose was to reduce infant and maternity mortality rates in the United States, especially in poorer families. Although the funding ended only eight years later (due to its “socialistic” attributes), it was the first legislation that specifically addressed women and children issues so directly. Leadership in Congress assigned Jeannette to the Committee on Public Lands, which was concerned with western issues. Having been born in the west, Jeannette brought concrete experience to her role.
When a mine disaster in Butte resulted in a massive protest strike by miners over their working conditions, violence soon broke out. Jeannette learned early that corporations were not interested in the rights of the workers; this was one more social issue that Jeannette would champion is years to come. She said, “They own the State, they own the Government. They own the press” (Smith, 2002, p. 131). Jeannette’s efforts with miners played an enormous role in her life. Those stories could represent a separate report beyond this paper.
Her support of the workers was a contributing factor in losing support in Montana (from wealthier financial donors). However, it was ultimately her vote against the war that lead to her (temporarily) losing her seat in Congress after only one term. The Pacifist Period After losing her bid for reelection, Jeannette turned her attention toward a growing movement toward lasting peace. After she left Congress, Jeannette traveled to Europe to join the Second International Congress of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP). The conditions of post-war Europe were emotionally devastating to Jeannette.
The group found the people of Europe starving. They implored leaders to do something, but no one, including President Wilson, did anything to help. The war reparations set in the Treaty of Versailles (upon the defeated Central Powers) caused poverty and starvation to even the most innocent citizens. The Allies lack of concern and care for ordinary Europeans brought forth much of the resentment that gave rise to Adolph Hitler and World War II. Jeanette knew that the post-war mistreatment she witnessed would lead to terrible consequences in the end.
The ICWPP faced great discrimination from world leaders in their efforts because of their (the women’s) lack of political power (Woelfle, 2007, p. 59). In spite of the lack of assistance from political establishment, Jeannette continued her work for peaceful reform, advocating for release of prisoners, food and clothing for the defeated war parties. Additionally, she organized peace marches to discourage further military action. After her return from work in Europe and trying to improve conditions for the survivors of WWI, Jeannette worked for ten years (1929-1939) for National Council for the Prevention of War.
She lobbied congress to try to prevent further conflict. She dedicated her financial resources and her personal life to this cause. By this time, Jeannette was 60 years old. She had spent her life dedicated to women’s rights, peace and other social issues. Her energy was unwavering. The Kansas City Star wrote on June 10, 1940, “Thirty years of fighting for women’s suffrage, minimum wages for women and peace have not made her a zealot. … she can cram her conversation with statistics without sacrificing any of her feminine charm” (Smith, 2002, page 175).
As the prospect of another World War approached, Jeannette grew increasingly passionate about keeping America out of this conflict. She said this of war, “There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible” (Lewis, 2011). Jeannette decided the only way she could have an effective voice in averting war was to return to politics.
Jeannette returned to Montana after years of travel and lobbying to run again for Congress. Second Term in Congress Jeannette’s second term in Congress is marked by one significant event – her vote on World War II. After that, her legislative colleagues rendered her ineffective by removing her from involvement in important congressional issues and committees. When Jeannette began her second attempt for a seat in the House, she ran on a platform against involvement in the Second World War. Her life had been spent dedicated to peace and she did not want to see American involvement in such a fruitless endeavor.
She spoke of this all over the state of Montana. So when she won in November 1940 (with a large margin), this philosophy was known and supported by her constituents. Therefore, when the vote to enter the War came in December 1941 – Jeannette voted “No” – the only person in Congress to do so. She said of this vote, “Killing more people won’t help matters. As a woman, I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else” (Lewis, 2011). The wrath of this vote was severe in spite of her vocal expression of her intended platform of anti-war.
Norma Smith (2002) writes in Jeannette Rankin – America’s Conscience, that Montanans sent telegrams with obscene messages, “They called her bitch, old fossil, Hitler’s aid, disgrace and a traitor. Some suffrage friends wired they were ashamed to be a woman after her vote, that the best thing she could do would be to get a job as a maid” (pg 184). The degrading treatment continued throughout her remaining term. Many people wondered why Jeannette would do this to herself. It was because she believed that her sacrifice to hold her moral ground was nothing compared to the sacrifices demanded of innocent people in war (Smith, 2002, pg 185).
She hoped her vote against something she believed so strongly against would give courage to people in the future – those people who would have to make similar difficult stands. Former friends abandoned her once again. Every time Jeannette stood with moral courage, she found herself almost alone. However, as the future would confirm, even after her term in Congress was over (she did not run for re-election), her dedication for peace would last her lifetime. Her courage and sacrifice would not be forgotten. Conclusion – Lasting Gifts Final years of service
After World War II, Jeannette spoke out adamantly against the Cold War and opposed the Korean War. During the remainder of her life, she traveled to India seven times and was a devotee of Gandhian principles of non-violence and self-determination. When the United States became involved in the Vietnam conflict, Jeannette was almost 80 years old. In 1968, she led a protest demonstration of thousands of women in Washington, D. C. A wide anti–Vietnam War coalition of pacifists, feminists, and students organized the Jeannette Rankin Brigade and urged Rankin (then 88 years old) to run for Congress in 1968.
Ill health forced her out of the race, but she continued to speak out against the Vietnam War. After a life of fighting for peace, equality, and social justice, Jeannette Rankin died on May 18, 1973 in Carmel, California. She never married, had children or obtained personal wealth. She left her simple home in Georgia to a scholarship trust. That trust continues to provide scholarships for women. Lasting Impact Jeannette Rankin’s life is remembered through a wide variety of lasting contributions. One is a national center established in her name.
The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (in Missoula, Montana) exists to connect and empower people to build a socially just, non-violent and sustainable community and world. We are committed to a process of reflection, dialogue and action, both in times of crisis and in the ongoing work of peacemaking. We believe that informed, engaged citizens are the foundation of both democracy and peace, and aim our efforts at supporting both. (jpc. org. 2011) Many other programs exist in the honor or Jeannette’s memory: •The University of Montana named one of its historical buildings the Jeannette Rankin Hall.
The building celebrates and provides offices for programs in social work and in environmental studies. •The Jeannette Rankin Foundation (JRF) awards scholarships to low-income women 35 and older enrolled in educational programs. JRF awarded its first scholarship of $500 in 1978 and in 2009 gave $2,000 scholarships to 80 women. •Jeannette was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (A. C. L. U. ), established in 1920. Its mission is to defend individual liberties and rights, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Jeannette spoke out to allow the formation of the Metal Miners Workers Union, one of the first Miners Unions to exist. Jeannette Rankin’s life could have been one of moderate wealth in a quiet part of Montana. Instead, she chose to be the voice of disadvantaged people. She withstood ridicule, loss of reputation, loss of friends and sacrificed much of her personal life to the service of others. She did this at a time when women usually were passively obedient to the norms of society. The following quote from Jeannette humorously illustrates this philosophy: The individual woman is required . . a thousand times a day to choose either to accept her appointed role and thereby rescue her good disposition out of the wreckage of her self-respect, or else follow an independent line of behavior and rescue her self-respect out of the wreckage of her good disposition (Lewis, 2011). Jeannette Rankin is a Moral Courage Hero. Works Cited Evans, S. M. (1987). Born for liberty (First ed. , pp. 171-284). New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. Jeanette Rankin Biography (2011). In Biography. com. Retrieved September 24, 2011, from http://www. biography. om/articles/Jeannette-Rankin-9451806 Josephson, Hannah. (1974) Jeannette Rankin, First Lady in Congress: A Biography. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Lewis, Jone J. (2011). Jeannette rankin quotes. About Women’s History. Retrieved October 1, 2011, from http://womenshistory. about. com/od/quotes/a/Jeannette-Rankin-quotes. htm Smith, 2002,, N. (2002). Jeanette rankin: America’s conscience (First ed. , pp. 15-185). Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press. Woelfle, G. (2007). Jeanette rankin: Political pioneer (First ed. , pp. 11-101). Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek.