"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." (1929)
What qualities does it take to lead a march against war at age eighty-eight? It takes bravery, self-confidence but overall, what it takes is to have a great heart. The life of Jeannette Rankin was always guided and supported by her big, brave and compassionate heart.
Jeannette Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, the first child of five in the family of John Rankin and Olive Pickerman. Rankin enjoyed a fortunate childhood living with a kind and close-knit family in a comfortable house in Missoula, Montana. She graduated with a degree in biology, but her future did not seem to have a clear direction even by the time she was 24 years old. In 1904, she went to Boston to visit Wellington, her brother, with whom she had a very warm and close relationship.That trip to Boston showed her the poverty and pain that many children have to face in the world, and she became deeply interested in the social reform activities. At last she found the goal for her life and how she would be of use to people.
Rankin started right away by working at a home for orphans in Washington. However, she was always looking for broader ways to be of use. She began working for the Washington Campaign for Women’s Suffrage. She was convinced that better laws were the key to solving the problems of human misery. She also thought that women must have an equal part in making these laws. She began her work in her home state of Montana, promoting suffrage for women. In February 1911, she gave a speech before the Montana legislature where no woman had ever been invited to speak before. The good reception of her ideas motivated her to begin working nation-wide to get the vote for women as a constitutional right.
Her self-confidence and the unconditional support of her brother Wellington propelled her to run for a seat in the United States Congress in 1916. After a controversial campaign, Ms. Rankin won as the first woman in Congress, winning against many powerful social influences, including newspaper owners.
During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. The vote process was particularly tough for Rankin because she felt she had the responsibility of representing the women of the country. Even with many sources of pressure on her to vote in favor of war, she was loyal to her peace principles, and voted "no" to war. Rankin's "no" vote did not stop the war, but it made clear to everyone that this representative had come to work for peace, not for politics.
During her term in Congress, Rankin worked to make better conditions for workers, medical attention for children and many other social causes. After leaving United States Congress she joined "The Zurich Congress," a group of outstanding pacifist women from countries involved in war. The Zurich Congress intended to develop plans to prevent future wars. Rankin was involved in many social, political and pacifist activities, however she said once that her only job during life had been to try to make a better world. Although at times unpaid and unsupported in her ideas and activities, the woman from Montana always maintained an active and enthusiastic spirit.
In 1939 another war in Europe brought out the possibility of the participation of the United States. Rankin was very concerned about American involvement in this new war; therefore, she ran again for Congress to keep the U.S. from entering the war. For this new campaign, she approached young people for their support, and again won a seat in Congress. This time, however, she was alone in voting against war. Hers was the only vote cast against joining the war. Ranking not only opposed the war with her vote, she proposed that congressmen and other war supporters, including the President ,should receive the same treatment they were offering to the soldiers fighting the war, a wage of thirty dollars a month, a tin cup and a bread card, so they would live on the same food the soldiers does. Obviously this proposal did not pass, and her brave action brought her strong opposition and attacks from every side. Rankin was called everything from "old fossil" to "traitor Nazi," but her moral standards did not allow her to do less than oppose the war.
After World War II, Jeanette began to study Mahatma Gandhi’s methods of peace through non-violence to bring about basic changes in human life. Rankin realized that war and business were synonymous when the United States went to war in Korea and later in Vietnam. Rankin had concerns that her life had been futile and that she had worked unsuccessfully against war. However, her tireless spirit moved her to join the new pacifist movements lead by young people during the years of the Korean and Viet Nam Wars. Rankin became a symbol of peace for the new pacifists at the end of the century. When she was 88 years old, she led a march against war. The march was called the "Jeannette Rankin Brigade" and there were about five thousand people in the protest march on Washington, D.C. On February 14, 1972, after a period of non-stop activity she received an award as "The World’s Outstanding Living Feminist." Rankin’s spirit, ideals and dreams were still vigorous when her heart failed in 1973.
Some people become heroes because of their outstanding accomplishments. . Jeannette Rankin was a daughter, sister, congresswoman, pacifist, and a natural hero in every one of those fields. Her immense love for humanity made of her not only a hero of peace, but also a model of loyalty and a symbol of hope.