Credentials of Jeannette Rankin, the First Congresswoman
In 1916 – four years before before the 19th Amendment granted women across the country the right to vote – Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress as a Representative from Montana.
Rankin was sworn into office on April 2, 1917, having presented this credential as evidence that she had been duly elected by the people of a state. As typical of these credentials, it was signed by the governor of the state, Sam Stewart, and the secretary of state.
On her first day in office, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, given their recent increase in hostilities. A pacifist, Rankin voted against the declaration of war, along with 49 other members of Congress. Unfortunately, this decision turned away many of her supporters.
In the next election, Rankin decided not to run for the House again, but ran for the Senate instead. After losing the Republican primary, positioned herself as a third-party candidate, but was not elected again to Congress. However, her fight for causes she believed in, including peace, was not over. In 1940, she again ran for a seat in the House of Representatives – and was elected!
On December 8, 1941, Rankin and her fellow Congressmen and women were called upon again by the President to declare war on a foreign power, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Again, Rankin voted against war, but this time she was alone in doing so. After her term ended, she chose not to run again for re-election, but continued to be a vocal advocate for pacifism, including speaking out against the Vietnam War.
Jeannette Rankin’s credentials, as well as the tally sheet of the vote in the House of Representatives for a declaration of war against Japan, December 8, 1941, are on display in the “Featured Documents” exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from January 26 through April 3, 2017.
The National Archives Museum’s “Featured Document” exhibit is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Ford Motor Company Fund.
Past Featured Records
On April 30, 1789, George Washington placed his hand upon a Bible and took the oath as the first President of the United States. The oath was administered on a second-floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. President... Read more
At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, catapulting the United States into World War II. In less than 2 hours, the fleet was devastated, and more than 3,500 Americans were either killed... Read more
Following decades of work to promote and feature the contributions of African Americans, the Act to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was authorized by Congress in 2003. The museum, which will house 36,000 artifacts, officially opens on the National... Read more
During World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces established a policy that discharged homosexuals regardless of their behavior. In 1981, the Defense Department prohibited gay and lesbian military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In... Read more
The 99th Pursuit Squadron trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where there was an airfield and a civilian... Read more
On December 6, 1865, slavery throughout the United States became illegal when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Four years earlier, however, Congress had passed a different 13th Amendment, stating, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power... Read more
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the need for a change in American policy concerning refugees became apparent as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians fled political chaos and physical danger in their homelands. Between 1975 and 1979, some 300,000 of these refugees... Read more
“A bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark”
–Coca-Cola Company, 1915
Today the Coca-Cola bottle is one of the most recognizable containers in the world, but a century ago nearly all soda bottles looked the same. To distinguish its product... Read more
On September 2, 1945, representatives from the Japanese government and Allied forces assembled aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which effectively ended World War II.
The document was prepared by the U.S. War Department and approved... Read more
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, a momentous achievement in the struggle for equal rights.
When President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing the nation’s slaves on January 31, 1865, it was not the end of... Read more