Jeannette Rankin Visits Oakmont Regional High School

News staff photo by Joseph Benavidez. Margaret Watson, above portrays Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the United States Congress, giving a passionate speech about women in legislation in America to a group of Oakmont Regional High School students.

On Tuesday, October 21, 2014, U.S. Rep. Jeannette Rankin (alias Margaret Watson) visited the Women in World History Class at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham. About eighty persons were in attendance, including students, administrators, and the instructor of the class, Melissa Martin. 

Ms. Martin planned a forum on women in the legislature. Included panel members were Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (Leominster), Rep. Kimberly Ferguson (Holden), and Anne Gobi (Spencer), former representative and a candidate for the State Senate at that time. 

The students prepared questions for the panel to which the legislators responded readily. They men-tioned difficulties that women face when campaigning for office, criticism of their clothing and personal ap-pearance, and ways they spend their personal time. All spoke against negative campaigning and stated they would not indulge in negative messages in their campaign although all had experienced negative cam-paigning in their bid for election. 

Ms. Watson personified Jeannette Rankin (Montana), the first woman in the U.S. Congress. She graduated from what is now the University of Montana and became a social worker in San Francisco and in the East Side of New York City. She became appalled at the poverty affecting women and children, their lack of adequate health care, and the resulting high rate of infant mortality. 

Ms. Rankin believed that women should have a voice in the voting process to make their concerns heard and gain some measure of control over their lives. She worked with the suffrage movement since only Wyoming and Utah then gave women the right to vote. Through her efforts and those of others, other states, including her own state of Montana, gave women the right to vote.

Jeannette Rankin decided to run for Congress, believing she could introduce legislation that could better the quality of life for women, children, and members of the working class. She won a seat in Congress in 1914, becoming the first woman in the U.S. House of Representatives. She said, “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last.” 

Ms. Rankin was well accepted by her fellow representatives, but on her first day, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany. Jeannette Rankin voted against entering the war. She thought that war is not a good way to settle problems, that shooting young men was not a solution, and that a few men supported wars because they profited from them economically. 

After losing her bid for the U.S. Senate, Jeannette continued her efforts to speak for women’s suffrage, child protection laws, and better health care. In 1941 she ran again for the U.S. House of Representatives, serving her second term and again voting against entering war; this time she cast the lone vote against entering World War II. 

At the age of eighty-eight years, Ms. Rankin led a protest march in Washington D.C. against the war in Viet Nam. Spunky to the last, she continued speaking, passing away at the age of ninety-two. In 1985, the State of Montana placed a statue of Jeannette Rankin in the Hall of Statuary in the Capitol Rotunda . 

The forum at Oakmont Regional was arranged through the Worcester Women’s History Project office. The teacher, Ms. Martin, organized the discussion for her class after reading the article on Women’s Equality Day that appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette in August 2014.

Published Date: 
February 12, 2015