Jeanette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana, on 11th June, 1880. After graduating from Montana University in 1902 Rankin worked as a schoolteacher before entering the New York School of Philanthropy in 1908. This was followed by periods as a social worker in Montana and Washington.
Unable to settle to social work, Rankin enrolled in the University of Washington. While a student in Washington she became involved in the struggle for women's suffrage and eventually became legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
A member of the Republican Party, in 1916 Rankin decided to run for Congress. Rankin, who campaigned for universal suffrage, prohibition, child welfare reform, an end to child labour and staying out of the First World War, became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. One of her first actions was to introduce a bill that would have allowed women citizenship independent of their husbands.
A pacifist, Rankin was one of the 49 members of Congress to vote against war with Germany. Fellow suffragists such as Carrie Chapman Catt urged Rankin to change her mind, fearing that she would damage the cause by reflecting the view that women were sentimental and irresponsible.
Rankin's controversial views on the First World War, trade union rights, equal pay and birth-control, lost her the Republican Senate nomination in 1918. She therefore stood as an independent but without the support of a party machine, was easily defeated.
After the war Rankin successfully campaigned for independent citizenship (1922), the Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (1921), Independent Citizenship (1922) and Child Labour Amendment (1924). Rankin was also active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the National Council for the Prevention of War.
In 1940 Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives on an anti-war programme. Rankin maintained this position and in December, 1941, was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on Japan. Rankin was convinced that Franklin D. Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the Japanese attack. Once again her pacifism made her extremely unpopular with the electorate and she decided not to stand for re-election.
In the 1960s Rankin established a self-sufficient women's co-operative in Georgia. Rankin was also active in the campaign against the Vietnam War and on 15th May, 1968, at the age of 87, led a women's demonstration against the war in Washington.
Jeannette Rankin died at Carmel, California, on 18th May, 1973.