A woman was elected to Congress before women had the right to vote.

  • Women’s suffrage protest
Women's suffrage protest
Photo credit: Everett Collection/ Shutterstock

On August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment, finally granting American women the vote after a hard-fought battle dating back to the nation’s very founding. However, perplexingly, the U.S. Capitol had already played host to its first congresswoman a few years prior: Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana. 

Like many other American liberties, women’s suffrage was slowly granted state by state before becoming a national right protected by the Constitution. Montana granted women the unrestricted right to vote in 1914. Two years later, 36-year-old Rankin, a vocal suffragist, ran for one of the state’s two House seats and won. 

The election of Rankin, the first woman ever elected to the federal government, was a bright spot in American history made dimmer by her misogynistic welcome to Washington. Rankin didn’t take her rightful seat in the chamber until April 2, 1917, due to a month-long debate about whether it was appropriate for a woman to be a U.S. representative (even though Montanans had clearly already decided the matter). The country still has a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the nation’s legislative branch, but 28% of the members in the current 118th Congress are women — the largest percentage in U.S. history. 

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