The First Woman Elected to Congress | Spanlish


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Thursday, June 14, 2018

The First Woman Elected to Congress

Before the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to women nationwide, several states already included women at the polls. Jeannette Rankin, born on this date in 1880, campaigned to get women to vote for her in the 1916 congressional race in Montana, although that wasn't the only reason she won. Rankin became the first woman in the United States Congress because she worked hard for the opportunity to improve the lives of the downtrodden. But the newspapers of the time treated her as they did any woman who rose above her station.

Rankin came in second in Montana’s at-large Congressional race, meaning she secured one of the two available seats. But in those days ballots were counted by hand, which took a long time. Montana newspapers—likely not taking her candidacy entirely seriously—initially reported that Rankin had lost. It wasn’t until three days later that the papers had to change their tune: Miss Rankin was headed to Congress.

Suddenly journalists across the country were clamoring to interview and photograph the nation’s first congresswoman. Photographers camped outside her house until Rankin had to issue a statement saying she was no longer allowing photos and would “not leave the house while there is a cameraman on the premises.” Before the election, Rankin’s team had sent The New York Times biographical material about their candidate, only to have the Times return it and run a mocking editorial urging Montanans to vote for Rankin because “if she is elected to Congress she will improve that body aesthetically, for she is said to be ‘tall, with a wealth of red hair.’” A month later, the paper was profiling her more seriously, reporting on her suffrage work and noting that she had “light brown hair—not red.” Of course, due to her gender, a profile on Rankin could not be limited to political topics. The Times also reported on her “Famous Lemon Pie,” and informed readers that “She dances well and makes her own hats, and sews.” Other newspapers took a similar tone.

Rankin's treatment by the press did not improve after she went to work in Washington, but that seems trivial compared with the insane views her congressional colleagues had on the role of women 100 years ago. Read how Rankin fought for peace, suffrage, and equality at Mental Floss.

Source: The First Woman Elected to Congress

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