When my wife Shelly recently said ” let’s go see Wonder Woman ” I said, ” sure, why not. ” It was a Friday night, we had no plans, and we stopped at the China Buffet on the way there so I had an incentive to go. I didn’t know anything about the movie other than I don’t like any of either the DC/Marvel Comics films, but Shelly wanted to go so we did.

I was shocked when early in the film it became apparent that Wonder Woman wanted to end World War I. Whaaaaat? I didn’t remember this from the Lynda Carter series! Wonder Woman hated war and wanted to end it? My mind went immediately to the actual, real Wonder Woman who truly wanted to end World war I, in real life, a little over 100 years ago.

Jeannette Rankin was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, from Montana, in 1916. Prior to her election she had been instrumental in winning women the right to vote in Montana, in 1914, and she took the momentum of that campaign straight into the halls of Congress. Shortly after Rankin took office, in 1917, she was one of only 56 representatives in all of Congress, senators and congresspersons, to vote against US entry into World War I. Wisconsin’s Robert M La Follette was another.

It was a politically courageous act that cost Rankin her seat after only one term. Nevertheless, she persisted. She ran again in 1940…. and won. This time, in 1941, Rankin WAS THE ONLY MEMBER OF EITHER CHAMBER OF CONGRESS to vote against American entry into World War II. The. Only. One. For her courage she was chased from the floor of the US House of Representatives by reporters and had to hide in a coat room until capitol police could rescue her. People called her foolish, unpatriotic, vile, and yet prominent journalist William Allen White wrote in the Kansas Emporia Gazette:

Probably a hundred men in Congress would have liked to do what she did. Not one of them had the courage to do it. The Gazette entirely disagrees with the wisdom of her position. But Lord, it was a brave thing! And its bravery someway discounted its folly. When, in a hundred years from now, courage, sheer courage based upon moral indignation is celebrated in this country, the name of Jeannette Rankin, who stood firm in folly for her faith, will be written in monumental bronze, not for what she did, but for the way she did it.” She again lost her seat after only one term. Nevertheless, she persisted.

In 1968, at 88 years of age, Rankin led 5,000 participants on a march to the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC in protest of the War in Vietnam. Early In 1973, shortly before her death, she briefly considered another run for congress to protest the American War on Vietnam, but poor health prevented any serious consideration of a run. She died on May 18th, 1973, at the age of 92.

And yet last year, during the 100th anniversary of her election to Congress, there was barely a mention of her in the national press. Barely a mention of her within the women’s movement. Barely a mention of her among peace groups. She was without a doubt one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century, now almost forgotten in a culture grown so used to war and savagery that we hardly notice it anymore.

I didn’t much care for the movie” Wonder Woman “. I thought it was silly, and formulaic, and, well….. silly. But if Hollywood ever decides to makes a film about Jeannette Rankin, I’ll drop whatever I’m doing and go. We can even skip the China Buffet.

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3 Responses to The Real Wonder Woman

  1. Rochelle Galloway says:

    Bravo Steve, sad but true. Wonderwoman the movie was light entertainment with some positive twists and message,but shouldn’t impress anybody as a feminist powerhouse icon. I wouldn’t have known who Jeanette Rankin was without you telling me. Every feminist should be holding up Jeanette as a true heroine in American history!

  2. Buffy Riley says:

    What a wonderful piece this is! Thank you for writing it!

  3. Edward Susterich says:

    Steve Carlson,

    A belated “Thank You” for introducing me to the greatness of Jeanette Rankin. It is embarrassing for me to realize how much I don’t know of our history…and of the inadequacy of typical education and text material for our youth.

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