First Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, now 90, Hails Women’s Lib

“Men make fun of it because they want it to stop,” says savvy pioneer feminist.

The Washington Star-News, September 2, 1972: “If ageing is the erosion of one’s ideals, then Jeannette Rankin is in her 20s,” commented Ralph Nader after spending a day with the 92-year-old ex-Congresswoman from Montana.

Crusader Rankin and crusader Nader had been fans for some time, but they didn’t know it until they met this week when Miss Rankin flew from Carmel Valley, Calif. especially to talk to him and “his people,” about ways to improve Congress.

Nader invited Miss Rankin to visit his headquarters here after receiving the filled-in questionnaire he had sent to her and other former Congress members for his Congressional project.

He found her answers thoughtful, refreshing and very much in line with his own thinking about government and the need to make Congress more representative for all segments of society.

Previously, Miss Rankin had been “trying to get in touch with Nader ever since he became notorious. I admired him so much,” she says.

She really got a crush on him when she heard him and architect Buckminster Fuller on TV.

“He was so nice and warm and human and it was so dear when he called Mr. Fuller ‘Buck.’”

She was sure Nader had never heard of her — “How would he?” And she never heard from him even though friends tried to contact him for her. “I would spend whole days waiting by the phone for him to call.”

By the time Nader did call, Miss Rankin said, “I’d given up.”

She spent Thursday at his office, speaking to three of his groups.

She talked and talked and talked. But about the future, not the past.

Said Nader: “I’ve never met someone her age who refused to indulge in nostalgia. She’s always looking ahead.”

Nader said that more than anything else, the invincible, elderly maverick was an inspiration to the young people who work with him and “get discouraged after two or three years. She gave them the perspective of a lifetime of determination.”

Miss Rankin has been implacable about the necessity of peace for 70 years. The first woman elected to Congress, she served two terms, in 1917 and in 1940, arriving in both eras in time to be the only representative to vote against war.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1968, she led 3,000 women to the Capitol at the head of the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, protesting the war in Vietnam.

She’s gotten nothing but abuse for her pacifism.

She blames the disintegration of the early women’s movement on the desire of women for peace. “When we got the vote, we were all condemned as unpatriotic if we talked against war. These women were vilified.”

So was Miss Rankin, who says that for 20 years after she got out of Congress “no one would give me a job.”

Miss Rankin is sanguine about the newly-emerged women’s movement and said “the National Women’s Caucus is a grand start. Women’s lib is very encouraging. The way we know it’s growing is that the men make fun of it. They make fun of it because they want it to stop.”

Things haven’t changed much from when she was a Suffragette, she says. “The funniest thing in the world then was a woman wanting to vote. The men would say, ‘The next thing you know, they’ll want to go to Congress. And the next thing you know, they’ll want to go in the barber shops.’ And women did both,” said Miss Rankin, who never had her own hair “bobbed.”

The issues are the same, too, she says. “We didn’t talked about abortion to men because we knew no one would listen to us. But we talked to each other about these things. One woman got up one time and said she had 17 abortions. We wanted things like abortion, but we knew we had to get the vote first.”

Miss Rankin is appalled at what women have done — or haven’t done — with their vote. “They don’t know who they are voting for or why. For 50 years they’ve been reading books, but they haven’t learned how to vote. It is time they woke up.”

Why are women so backward politically?

“Because they’re dumb,” says Miss Ranking, meaning to shock, and succeeding.

“They’re dumb because men have told them a beautiful face is all that’s important.”

Miss Rankin castigates women today because “they are not solving urgent problems, like feeding the children.

“Children in this country are starving. Children all over the world are starving.”

She believes that if women would swing their weight in government, money would be spent to feed the children and improve education instead of “expanding the military.”

Miss Rankin decided to run for Congress after women got the vote in Montana in 1914.

“I didn’t run because I thought I was the most capable. I ran because I thought I could get elected,” she recalls. “There were two Congressmen at large and everyone could vote for both a man and a woman.” And so it came to pass.

But her hope that a woman in Congress “would embarrass the men into giving us the vote” was shattered early “I thought all you had to do was ask,” she says, smiling at her naiveté.

She doesn’t really like to think of the past.

“I have all these things that have to be done,” she says.

She is still crusading for her multi-district plan “to change Congress and make it more representative of the people.”

Although her idea is innovative and repellant to those in power, she finds that “ordinary people like my neighbors in Georgia see its advantages.”

Essentially, what Miss Rankin would like to see is fewer Congressional districts with more representatives from each.

“If you have 10 districts in a state, you could divide the state into two districts with five representatives each.

“Instead of a person needing 51 percent of the vote, he might win with 18 percent. This way minorities and women could get the representation they can’t get now.”

These days Miss Rankin says she doesn’t “live anywhere.” She spends time in Carmel Valley, votes in Montana and visits her farm in Georgia.

But much of the time, she is stumping the country, cane in hand, but sure of purpose, promulgating her views on peace and women and representative government.

And privately, she pursues a simple, womanly way of protesting the war, an idea that began with a woman’s group several years ago but didn’t catch on.

“It’s nonviolent. It doesn’t hurt anything. It makes you think of the war and your responsibility for ending it. I simply don’t shop on Tuesdays. Instead, I think hard about the war.”

The Washington Star-News, September 2, 1972 as Jeannette Rankin Meets Her ‘Crush’ — Mr. Nader

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