Missoula native Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1916. That was two years after Montana women were given equal suffrage, and four years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave women across the United States the right to vote. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” Rankin said after being elected. “But I won’t be the last.”
Since Rankin’s election, 276 women have served in Congress (compared to about 12,000 men). But Rankin, a Republican who was voted again to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940 and became, in 1941, the only member to vote against entering World War II, remains the only Montana woman to represent the state in Washington, D.C.
Seven decades later, Kim Gillan is gunning to be the second. The Democratic state senator from Billings is campaigning for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her bid comes during the so-called “War on Women,” the political catch phrase used to describe efforts by conservatives to restrict reproductive rights and government funding for women’s health care.
The chance at being Montana’s second woman in Congress is one reason Gillan’s campaign would figure to stand out. Another reason is that, after serving 16 years in the Montana Legislature—eight in the House and eight in the Senate, with leadership positions in both chambers—Gillan brings a lawmaking prowess and penchant for bipartisanship; only twice in her eight sessions were Democrats in the majority. Yet another reason is that, with “jobs” being the election year’s most discussed topic, Gillan is a workforce development and training coordinator at Montana State University-Billings.