Young Belle Winestine described suffragist Jeannette Rankin as “magnetic,” with an “illuminous quality,” and quoted another observer of the charismatic Rankin as like a “young panther ready to spring.”
A century ago, Montana women won the right to vote. Two years later, in 1916, with ardent support of Winestine and others like her, Missoula Republican Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress, where she successfully sponsored legislation requiring equal pay for equal work in federal civil service jobs.
Winestine served as Rankin’s congressional assistant until Rankin left Congress after she was defeated in a race for the U.S. Senate in 1918. Winestine later observed that a speech Rankin gave in support of mandatory mine safety regulations to a huge crowd in Butte following a catastrophic underground fire there, was so powerful and compelling that it was followed by nearly 15 minutes of applause.
She felt, however, that the powerful Anaconda Company, fearful of the election of such an effective advocate for mine workers, then used its influence to prevent Rankin from going to the Senate.