MISSOULA — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill this week, introduced by Rep. Greg Gianforte, to rename the main Missoula post office at 1100 West Kent in honor of Jeannette Rankin.
“Jeannette Rankin was a trailblazer for women’s rights in our nation,” Gianforte said in a statement. “It’s my honor to recognize her and her lasting contributions to our country.”
Betsy Mulligan-Dague, executive director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in downtown Missoula, billed the passage of the legislation as great news.
“We’re all for spreading the legacy of Jeannette Rankin and her work to promote peace and social justice,” she said. “We consider her ‘the First Daughter of Missoula,’ and Missoula should be proud of the history and her legacy.”
The peace center was created in 1986, through the merging of various other groups, to “connect and empower people to build a socially-just, non-violent and sustainable community and world.”
Mulligan-Dague said the legislation comes during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ratified by Congress on Aug. 18, and adopted Aug. 26, 1920.
“There’s still a lot that need to be done to achieve justice and equality for women, Native Americans, people of color and others,” she said. “Jeannette Rankin serves as an inspiration for us to continue moving forward.”
Gianforte introduced the legislation last March, in recognition of Women’s History Month. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Steve Daines.
“Four years before women could vote throughout our nation, Montanans elected Jeannette Rankin to Congress,” Gianforte said when first introducing his bill to the House in March. “She was the first woman to serve in this body. She’s foundational to Montana and our country’s history.”
The daughter of a rancher and teacher, Rankin was born and raised near Missoula and earned a degree in biology at the University of Montana in 1902. She helped secure the right of women to vote in Montana in 1914, a full six years before Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, prohibiting states and the federal government from denying the right to vote in the U.S. based on sex.
She was a Republican, and the first woman elected into the U.S. House of Representatives where she served from 1917-1919, and again from 1941-1943.
A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members to vote against a declaration of war against Germany in 1917, and the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war against Japan in 1941.
She was also a staunch advocate for women’s rights and civil rights. She died in 1973 at the age of 92.
“She has been an inspiration to all women seeking public service,” Daines said, when introducing his bill in the Senate in March. “I’m glad to honor her legacy this Women’s History Month by renaming this post office after her.”
Statues of Rankin adorn both the U.S. and Montana capitols. A Missoula elementary school was named in her honor, along with a building on the University of Montana campus. The later was built in 1902 (the year Rankin graduated) and was renamed Jeannette Rankin Hall in 1983.
It currently houses the social work and environmental studies programs.