This Day In History: January 15

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On January 15, 1968, an 87-year-old Jeannette Rankin leads 5,000 women—nicknamed the "Jeannette Rankin Brigade"—in a march in Washington, D.C. against the Vietnam War. The march is a capstone of Rankin's long career as a suffragist, pacifist and the first woman elected to U.S. Congress.

Inspired by Mahatma Gahndi, Rankin organized a group of 5,000 women who wanted America out of Vietnam. They intended to present an anti-war petition to the Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack. Most of the women protesters dressed somberly in all black, to mourn the loss of their fathers, brothers and sons in the conflict. Another contingent of the protesters eschewed this approach; instead, they dressed in bright colors and provocative outfits, exhorting women to "resist approaching Congress playing these same roles that are synonomous with powerlessness," and instead to "[unite] into a force to be reckoned with."

Jeannette Rankin was a fierce advocate for women's rights and a staunch pacifist throughout her long career. She was born in the Montana Territory in 1880, and worked on women's suffrage campaigns across 15 states. Her advocacy included organizing New York City garment workers after the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

In 1916, she was the first woman elected to the Congress, representing the state of Montana. Her platform included nationwide women's suffrage, prohibition of alcohol and protections for children. On the first day of the 65th Congress, she introduced House Resolution 3, which became the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. It was eventually ratified by the states and added to the Constitution on August 26, 1920.

Rankin also opposed U.S. involvement in the ongoing First World War in Europe. Rankin was one of fifty members of Congress to vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. This vote cost her the support of many voters, including suffragists, and she did not win reelection in 1918.

For the next two decades, Rankin worked as an organizer and advocate for the welfare of women and children, and for pacifist causes. In 1940, with World War II looming, Rankin again ran for Congress in Montana, and won. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she voted against war with Japan. Famously, she was the only member of Congress to vote no. She declared, "As a woman, I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else." Her vote was so unpopular that she had to hide in a phone booth until Capitol police could escort her back to her office.

Rankin died on May 18, 1973, at age 92. The Vietnam War continued for another two years, until April 30, 1975. A total of 58,220 Americans died in the conflict.