Tester Celebrates 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage by Honoring Jeannette Rankin on Senate Floor
(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester took to the Senate Floor today to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage and honor the only woman to vote on the 19th Amendment—Montana’s own Jeannette Rankin.
Last Tuesday marked 100 years since Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. This Tuesday marked 139 years since the birth of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman ever elected to Congress and a lifelong crusader for peace, equality, and justice. Rankin helped women in Montana earn the right to vote in 1914, three years before she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1917 and five years before she helped pass the 19th amendment—making her the only woman to vote for nationwide women’s suffrage.
In honor of Rankin’s birthday and the suffrage centennial, Tester spoke about Rankin’s legacy on the Senate Floor this morning and read an excerpt from her speech on the 19th Amendment (transcript below).
Last week, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the 19th Amendment.
And this week, coincidentally enough, we celebrate the birthday of the only woman to vote on the 19th Amendment—Montana’s own Jeannette Rankin.
Jeannette Rankin, who helped women in Montana and Washington earn the right to vote in 1914, three years before she became the first woman elected to Congress and five years before she helped pass the 19th amendment—making her the only woman to vote for nationwide women’s suffrage.
I say nationwide because before Congress passed the 19th Amendment, women had already won the right to vote in more than a dozen states—almost all of which were west of the Mississippi.
And that was no accident.
The demands of frontier life were such that men and women often had to work side by side in order to meet them.
Heck, they still are.
So, it’s no surprise that it was a Western woman who led the effort on the House floor to pass a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.
As a freshman member of the minority party, Rankin was denied the Chairmanship of the newly-established Woman Suffrage Committee, but she was named Ranking Member.
The group went to work drafting a women’s suffrage amendment and on the morning of January 10, 1918, the Capitol was crowded with people hoping to secure a seat in the House Gallery for the suffrage debate.
Rankin opened the debate with an impassioned speech that helped convince her colleagues in the House to pass the amendment by the thinnest possible margin.
Unfortunately, the Senate failed to pass the amendment that Congress, but Rankin’s victory in the House marked a major milestone in the suffrage movement and laid the groundwork for the 19th Amendment’s passage just 18 months later.
So, in honor of her birthday on Tuesday and the suffrage centennial this past week, I’d like to read an excerpt from that impassioned speech Representative Rankin gave on the House floor more than 100 years ago:
“Today, as never before, the Nation needs its women—needs the work of their hands and their hearts and their minds. Their energy must be utilized in the most effective service they can give.
Are we now going to refuse these women the opportunity to serve in the face of their plea—in the face of the Nation’s great need?
Deep down in the hearts of the American people is a living faith in democracy.
Sometimes it is not expressed in the most effective way. Sometimes it seems almost forgotten.
But when the test comes, we find it still there, groping and aspiring, and helping men and women to understand each other and their common need.
It is our national religion, and it prompts in us the desire for that measure of justice which is based on equal opportunity, equal protection, equal freedom for all.
This proposed amendment should be passed as an act of right and justice to the women of America.
To my mind, this is one of the most important questions that has been presented to the Congress since I have been a Member.
One that has a far more wide-reaching effect upon the people of the country—in so far as what the country stands for and what we stand for—than any other question since the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of our Constitution.
These are the people who are resting their faith in the Congress of the United States because they believe that Congress knows what democracy means.
Can we afford to allow these men and women to doubt for a single instant the sincerity of our protestations of democracy?
How shall we answer their challenge, gentlemen; how shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?