Saturday, March 3, 2012

Notable Humanists: Jeannette Rankin

Given the appalling nature of the current national debate about birth control and women's rights (it's surreal to me that anyone still imagines this should be debated), I want to take a minute to highlight the achievements and contributions of a humanist woman.

Jeannette Rankin was born near Missoula, Montana in 1880.  She is most well known for being the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress, where she served two nonconsecutive terms (1917-1919 and 1941-1943).  She was also a famous pacifist - in her two terms in Congress, she voted against American involvement in both World Wars.

Outside of her work in Congress, she dedicated her life to the twin causes of gender equality and peace.  For example, in 1912, Rankin was elected legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Society.  In 1960, she established a women's cooperative in Georgia.  She also visited India and studied Gandhi's pacifist movement, and in 1968 she led a demonstration of about 5,000 women in Washington, D.C. against American involvement in Vietnam.

Throughout her life, she found herself fighting against overwhelming social odds.  She was often counted out due to her gender and her beliefs.  Norma Smith writes in her book, Jeannette Rankin: America's Conscience, that, when she was 89, Rankin was interviewed by a minister who asked how she had sustained herself in the face of her many defeats.  She replied, "I don't know.  Just stubborn, I guess."

Here are some quotes of Jeannette Rankin:
  • "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."
  • "Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn't make sense not to use both."
  • "You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go."

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