American Portraits

Jeannette Rankin: Nothing Left but My Integrity

In this lesson, students will review and evaluate the actions of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to U.S. Congress, the only woman to vote in Congress to extend the franchise to women, and the only person to have voted against the declarations of war in both World Wars. They will use her story to help understand how to act with integrity in their own lives.

Founding Principles

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Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

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Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Narrative

In 1916, women lacked the right to vote in 10 states. The Great War had started two years earlier in Europe, and Jeannette Rankin was concerned that the United States might allow itself to be pulled into that conflict. If she were in Congress, she reasoned, she would be in a position to take a stand both for women’s suffrage and against the war. Rankin’s brother, Wellington, financed and managed her campaign for Congress, in which she advocated women’s suffrage, social welfare, and staying out of Europe’s troubles. Her pacifism was apparent throughout the campaign; at one point, she asserted, “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.”…

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

Is maintaining your integrity worth what it may cost you?

Virtue Defined

Integrity is personal consistency in moral goodness.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will review and evaluate the actions of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to U.S. Congress, the only woman to vote in Congress to extend the franchise to women, and the only person to have voted against the declarations of war in both World Wars. They will use her story to help understand how to act with integrity in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Jeannette Rankin’s character as a citizen.
  • Students will examine Rankin’s demonstration of integrity and commitment to truth.
  • Students will understand why integrity is an essential virtue in their own lives.
  • Students will act with integrity to protect freedom even when their beliefs are unpopular.

Background

“What one decides to do in crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident. If one hasn’t any philosophy in crises, others make the decision.” – Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin, born in 1880, was the eldest of six children in a wealthy and prominent family in Montana. She graduated from Montana State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and then attended the New York School of Philanthropy. A woman of many interests, she considered careers in dress making, furniture design, and, after seeing slums in Boston, social work.

She soon became involved in a multitude of reform causes, including women’s suffrage, pacifism, civil rights, social welfare programs for women and children, and opposition to child labor. She worked in poor areas of San Francisco, New York, and Washington and was a professional lobbyist for the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Rankin later became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Furthermore, she was the only woman to cast a congressional vote in favor of women’s suffrage, and the only member of Congress to have voted against the U.S. entry into both World Wars.

She saw her pacifism as a natural outgrowth of her commitment to women’s rights. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi and Jane Addams, she believed that women were naturally more inclined to peace than men were, and if women participated more fully in civic and political life, there would be fewer wars. Throughout her lifetime, Rankin consistently upheld her convictions, even when they were unpopular and led to bitter criticism.

Vocabulary

  • Philanthropy
  • Slums
  • Pacifism
  • Civil rights
  • NAWSA
  • Suffrage
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Jane Addams
  • Advocate
  • Propagate
  • Vehement
  • Constituents
  • Lobbied
  • Inadvertent
  • Abstain
  • Redeemed
  • Irrelevant
  • Propagandist
  • Codified

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • In what ways did Jeannette Rankin demonstrate integrity to enhance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
  • Jeannette Rankin had many different interests and skills, and had a hard time settling on a career as a young woman. What did she understand her identity to be and to what extent did her identity change over time?
  • What did Jeanette Rankin understand her purpose to be? How did she want to be remembered?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

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