Friday, 18 Jan 2019

"I am not a woman I am a member of Congress": the first women to enter the House

Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the House, photographed in 1939. (Library of Congress) So many women defeated victories in Tuesday's election More than 100 people will be at the United States House at its meeting in early 2019. It's been a long way since 1917, when Jeannette Rankin joined the House as the first and only female member. Rankin, 36, won the Republican elections in Montana after riding on horseback. Recognized nationally as a leader of the suffrage movement, she helped Montana women win the vote in 1914. She promised to work "for laws that guarantee women the same salary as men for equivalent work ". The arrival of Rankin at Rankin The Congress of April 1, 1917 made headlines across the country. As the Montana legislator accompanied Rankin to his seat in the center of the house, all the members and spectators of the tribune began to applaud. Rankin wore a dark dress and no hat, reported the Associated Press. Congressmen treated him politely, but a newspaper warned him not to venture into the Republican locker room, where she would have to endure "swears and shades mixed with smoke from tobacco". [As a vote on entering World War I approached, the only woman in Congress faced an agonizing choice] The new Congressman caused a sensation with a vote on the first day. The Congress held a joint session to hear President Woodrow Wilson call for the resolution of the war against Germany in order to "secure the world for democracy". Rankin, a pacifist, was one of the 50 members of the House to vote against the resolution. Back home, Helena Independent called her a "dupe of the Kaiser" and a "crying college girl." The congressman was respected in defending her women's rights agenda, but in 1918 she lost her bid for a Senate seat that would have made her the first woman in this chamber. As a lobbyist, she helped pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, in 1920. She was again elected to the House of Commons in 1940. When male lawmakers l? called "the lady of Montana", she adopted line of a female colleague: "I am not a woman. I am a member of Congress. After Japan's Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, Rankin was the only legislator to vote against a resolution of the war. In the middle of an uproar, she was escorted by the police to her office. Rankin did not show up in 1942. She would later consider another California-run house in 1970 to protest the Vietnam War. She died in 1973 at the age of 92. Rankin's innovative efforts have inspired other women to run for office. In 1920, Alice Robertson, 66 years old and Republican of Oklahoma, became the second woman elected to the House. Robertson was a supporter of the Amerindians but opposed the women's rights movement. She was the first woman to beat an incumbent president, but lost her seat after a warrant. In 1925, Florence Kahn, Republican of California, became the fifth female representative and the first Jewish woman in the House. At age 59, Kahn won a special election to occupy the seat long occupied by her husband, who died. She made a name for herself and became the first woman on the Military Affairs Committee. When asked the secret of his success, Kahn replied, "Sex appeal." It lost in 1936 when a democratic wave led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt swept the elections.
Front row, from left: Representatives Pearl P. Oldfield of Arkansas, Mary T. Norton of New Jersey, Ruth Baker Pratt of New York and an unidentified woman. At the back, in the left row, Ruth Bryan Owen of Florida, Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts and Florence Kahn of California. (Library of Congress) In 1925, Mary T. Norton of New Jersey, 50, became the first female Democrat in the House. Known as "Battling Mary," she defended the workers. As Chair of the Labor Committee, she led the adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This Act establishes the 40-hour workweek and prohibits child labor. Norton resigned in 1951. In the meantime, women were also advancing in the Senate. Technically, the first woman senator was the 87-year-old Liberia Liberal Rebecca Latimer Felton, an 87-year-old women's rights activist and white supremacist. But she served only one day in October 1922 to temporarily fill the vacancy of a deceased senator. The first woman elected senator was Hattie Caraway, a 53-year-old Democrat from Arkansas, chosen by her party's leaders after the death of her husband in 1931. Caraway herself won the Senate seat in 1932 after campaigning in Arkansas with the partisan of Senator Huey Long of Louisiana in what was called the "Hattie and Huey" tour. Known as "Silent Hattie" because she rarely spoke in the Senate, in 1933 Caraway became the first woman to chair a Senate committee. She was also the first woman in Congress to sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment. But she joined with other southern senators to oppose the anti-lynch laws and support the voting tax. She was defeated in 1944 by J. William Fulbright. In 1949 Margaret Chase Smith of Maine became the first woman to sit in the Senate and the House. Smith, a Republican, was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in 1940, at the age of 42. One of the most memorable moments of her life took place in the Senate on June 1, 1950, when she denounced the twisted tactic of Senator Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. Smith served until his re-election in 1972. Despite these advances, women remained a "distinct minority" in Congress, according to historians of the House. In 1962, women represented less than 4% of all national legislators. The situation changed little before the "Year of the Woman" in 1992, when 27 women were elected to Congress. The gain was fueled largely by Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges over Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court candidate at the time. These gains were overwhelmed by Tuesday's results. The more than 100 women sitting in the House will far exceed the previous record of 85 in 2016, according to the Center for Policy and American Women of Rutgers University. Women will also occupy 23 of the 100 Senate seats, setting a record. In the midst of the celebrations, women may want to raise a glass in front of Jeannette Rankin, who said after her election in 1916: "I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I will not be the last." Ronald G. Shafer is a former political reporting writer on Washington at the Wall Street Journal and freelance writer in Williamsburg, Virginia. Learn more about Retropolis:
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