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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 04/ 8/2008

Suffragettes for Hillary

By Michael Dobbs

Suffragette Jeannette Rankin

"Remember, Jeannette Rankin was elected before women could vote. So who says men don't vote for a woman?"

--Sen. Hillary Clinton, speech in Missoula, Montana, April 6, 2008.

It is always risky for a candidate to make a historical claim without checking their facts. Hillary Clinton was wrong back in March when she insisted that no candidate, from either political party, had ever won the presidency without first winning the Ohio primary. She was earlier mistaken about the date of her own meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., saying it took place in 1963, when it actually happened in 1962. Last weekend, she made a mistake about suffragette history.

The Facts

Jeannette Rankin became the first ever woman elected to Congress, in 1916. She represented Montana in the House of Representatives for just one term, losing her seat at the following election after she voted against U.S. entry into World War I. A Republican and lifelong pacifist, she was elected again in 1940, and was the only member of Congress to oppose U.S. entry into World War II.

As a campaigner for women's rights, Rankin was a role model for Hillary Clinton. But the New York senator was wrong in saying that Rankin "was elected before women could vote." As several bloggers have pointed out, here and here, women won the right to vote in Montana in 1914, soon after it became a state. Other states that had granted women the right to vote by 1916 included Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Illinois. Women throughout the United States won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment.

While it is true that a lot of men voted for Rankin, it was women who gave her the decisive edge in the 1916 election, according to contemporaneous news reports. A Nov. 19, 1916 report in The New York Times concluded on the basis of "an examination of the election returns...that the women elected Miss Rankin."

"I knew that the women would stand by me," the newly-elected representative told reporters.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Rankin does not appear to have seen any conflict between running for office and "baking cookies."
The New York Times reported approvingly that Rankin was a "very feminine woman" who "made her own hats," sewed her own clothes, and was famous for her "lemon meringue pies." The newspaper mentioned in passing that the new Congresswoman had conducted much of her campaigning "on horseback."

The Pinocchio Test

This is not the biggest factual mistake that Clinton has ever made, certainly not in the same league as her now-retracted claim to have dodged "sniper fire" in Tuzla. But it is embarrasing, nonetheless, for someone who looks to Jeannette Rankin as a role model and trail blazer for women's rights. Two Pinocchios.

(About our rating scale.)

By Michael Dobbs  | April 8, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  2 Pinocchios, Candidate Watch, History  
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Next: Still no light at the end of the tunnel

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