Olivia Pasquerella

Loyola School | New York, NY | 9th

Historical Figure I Admire
Jeannette Rankin

Letter to a Younger Self –

Dear Adolescent Jeannette,

There is so much I wish I had known at your age. How naive I was, so many lessons yet to be learned, so many disappointments yet to come my way. Alas, I am now but an old woman. My words of wisdom can never reach you, can never lend you a helping hand. Nevertheless, young Jeannette, put away the farm tools, and stop teasing your younger brother –you’ll need him (and his deep pockets) later– and listen to what I have to say. Your life –our life, I should say– will be full of highs and lows, triumphs and failures. Your life from this point onward will only become more difficult. You will trade the struggles of life on a Montana ranch for the struggles of a woman aspiring to make her mark in a male-dominated world. You will find yourself enthralled and empowered by the suffragette movement and throw yourself, body and soul, into their effort. You will run for election for the House, and despite all obstacles and discouragement, you will win, becoming the first female Congress Member of the United States, against every odd. 

But even in victory, I have found myself far from truly winning. During both my terms in the House as a representative for Montana, I have been faced with taxing, crucial decisions that have forced me to stand up for my firmly held, but often unpopular beliefs. You will lose the support of other suffragettes, other Congress people, and even your home state when you refuse to support U.S. involvement in both World War I and World War II, but you do it anyway, simply because it is what you believe to be right. 

Being the first Congresswoman comes with its own set of expectations. You are expected to somehow not make too big of a splash, but still set a precedent for all other women to come after you. In your lifetime, you will be the first of many women to gain political power and have their voices heard in a way they had never before. But with these expectations and pressure, with the eyes of the nation upon you, comes a necessity for sacrifice. You will have to sacrifice everything, from the same popularity that got you elected to office to the respect of male members of Congress who dislike your pacifism in the face of national belligerence. But through it all, I hope you will never forget the heart of the suffragist cause. 

My advice to you, should you heed it in your youthful state, is to simply persevere. You will always be driven, always have goals, and always be striving for something more, but you must still persevere if you hope to leave your mark on this world. I can tell you from experience, there will be years of trial and tribulation ahead, but it is your sacrifice, and the sacrifices of so many like-minded women, that will leave this country a better place, with a brighter future for all women. 

Yours truly,

Jeannette Rankin


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