Monday, March 22, 2010

Passive Pacifism

At this week’s Life and Legacy program Dr. Joan Hoff, a noted research professor of history at Montana State University, expounded on Jeannette Rankin’s lifelong commitment to pacifism. An occasional commentator on the presidency for the "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," and former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, Hoff proved to be an engaging speaker with great insights into Jeannette Rankin’s formative years in her native Montana.

She began by addressing a question asked frequently thought the series (and by the founding mothers of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation) -- why do most historians often omit Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, when discussing the history of women in politics? Hoff mentioned a few reasons for the omission during her talk:
  • Many of Rankin’s personal papers were opened to the public by her brother in the late 1950s. With very limited supervision, access to the papers was abused and individuals absconded with much of the personal correspondence -- thinking that the signatures of Rankin’s contemporaries would prove valuable and easy to sell.

  • Hoff submitted that many historians focus on women activists from the east coast, where the suffrage movement originated. She suggested that there may have been some resentment toward Rankin because she was from a western state, many of which succeeded in winning suffrage before their counterparts in the east.

  • She further submitted that Rankin’s vote against entry into World War II may be another strike against her in the history books. Although Rankin had a strong commitment to pacifism and her anti-war platform resonated with Montana voters upon her re-election to Congress in 1940, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent events made her stance increasingly unpopular. Though Rankin knew she was committing political suicide when casting her vote against entry into the war, she hoped that fifty years later historians would see the value in her action. It seems, however, that they have yet to reconsider the action, seeing it as one which casts Rankin as a “kook” rather than a woman full of courage and conviction.
Answering more questions after the talk...
Our speaker went on to provide an overview of the circumstances of Rankin’s upbringing, education, and entry into politics. She gave a balanced view of the woman, not shying away from a discussion of some of Rankin’s flaws and political missteps. Further, Hoff was able to shed some light on to how Rankin’s actions connected with her ideals – for example, her advocacy of preferential voting. Dr. Hoff submitted her own categorization of Rankin’s commitment to peace as “passive pacifism” - and contributed some brief stories of her own involvement in protests for women’s rights (and other causes) during the 1970s and 1980s. The audience was captive for the hour-long talk and jumped in with numerous questions following
the presentation.
Representatives from UGA's Institute for Women's Studies

Dr. Joan Hoff will give the keynote lecture for the UGA Institute of Women’s Studies celebration of Women’s History month TODAY (March 22nd) at 3PM in the UGA Chapel on North Campus. Entitled “Too Little Too Late: Changes in the Legal Status of U.S. Women” the talk will tie into the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month – “Writing Women Back into History” – and will be followed by a reception and book signing in Demosthenian Hall.

Some men who appreciate Women's History!

The next event in the Life and Legacy of Jeannette Rankin Program Series will take place on Sunday, March 28th at 3PM in the ESP Room of the Oconee Public Library. Moderators Jill Severn and Jan Levinson will lead participants in a deliberative community forum on the topic of America’s Role in the World. For more information, please visit the Russell Library website or call (706) 542-5788.

To see more pictures of the event series CLICK HERE!

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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