[AMBIANCE NOISE FADES IN]
TEMI: Do you guys know any currently serving congresswoman?
VOX 1: No.
VOX 2: That’s negative. Only one I used to know is like Letitia James, so…
VOX 3: Ahh...which one do you like? Which one do you want me to name? [LAUGHS]
VOX 4: Umm...Elizabeth Warren?
VOX 5: Nancy Del...Delbosi? Right? Delboss…
TEMI: Nancy Pelosi is what you’re…
VOX 5: Pelosi, yeah. She’s the one from Connecticut, right? Who’s the one from Connecticut?
VOX 5: Kathy Tu? [LAUGHS]
VOX: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy!
VOX: With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: The midterms are approaching...
TOBIN: Indeed they are.
KATHY: And you know what I’m excited about?
TOBIN: What are you excited about?
KATHY: I’m excited about this so-called Rainbow Wave I’ve been hearing about...there are a record number of LGBT candidates running for office in this next election.
TOBIN: yes...it’s so exciting! PROGRESS!
KATHY: YES. It’s like queer peoples’ moment to storm the government!
TOBIN: Oh, But also, Kath...we’ve BEEN storming the government...maybe even earlier than you realize…
KATHY: I sense a story coming…
TOBIN: um-hmmm. So today, we’re bringing everyone a story from a great podcast “The United States of Anxiety.” It’s produced here at WNYC out of the newsroom. And this season they’re doing a deep dive into the theme of gender and power.
KATHY: Oh my god. What a time to be talking about gender and power.
TOBIN: I know, and it’s only gotten more interesting with you know, Brett Kavanaugh getting confirmed to the Supreme Court…But in the story we’re about to hear today, we get to sort of travel back in time 100 years to when things were … actually maybe much more progressive, in some ways. Okay, so the first voice you’re gonna hear is Kai Wright
KATHY: We love Kai here. We even had him on the show last season.
TOBIN: Yep, he’s great. And his main gig is host of “United States of Anxiety” -- and just to set this story up a bit: one thing he and the team have been really interested in is what a huge year this is for women running for office.
TOBIN: Take it away Kai.
KAI: We’re gonna start with one race where a woman is running as an underdog -- and has in fact been an unexpectedly strong fundraiser even before Kavanaugh. Kathleen Williams is running as a Democrat for Montana’s one at-large congressional seat.
TAPE FROM HER CAMPAIGN “KATHLEEN WILLIAMS!”: I’m Kathleen Williams, I’m running for US congress. We need to turn this thing around.
KAI: She was total upset in the primary, and now she’s steadily gaining ground on the Republican incumbent, Greg Gianforte. Now, that name may sound familiar, it’s because he made headlines last year, when before he won a special election in Montana, he body-slammed a reporter.
BODY SLAM TAPE: I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last guy who came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here!
KAI: Williams may become part of this historic class of women this year….but you know, Montana long ago made history for women in politics. Over one hundred years ago, Montana elected the first ever congresswoman -- Jeanette Rankin. Now, Montana never elected another woman to Congress after that -- Kathleen Williams would be the second ever. But the question we’re asking in this episode, is how did Jeannette Rankin do it? Yes, she was white and her family had some money, but how did she actually get voted in, four years before women got the vote nationally? And what can her story tell us about women fighting for political power today, women like Kathleen Williams? Our reporter Mara Silvers - was born and raised in Montana - she has our story:
MARA: Who was the first woman elected to Congress?
Vox: Elizabeth Rankin. Jennifer, no what, what’s her name?
MARA: You’re so close. Who was the first woman elected to congress in the country?
VOX: Jeannette Rankin, Jeannette Rankin, Jeannette Rankin, Jeannette Rankin, Jeannette Rankin. Jeannette Rankin.
MARA: You know that off the top of your head! Nice! What else do you know about her?
VOX: Um, she was a woman’s hero.
MARA: When I was growing up, I always heard Jeannette Rankin talked about as this legend, someone that the whole state should be proud of. But I never really understood her back story: how did she go from the sprawling plains and rugged mountains out west, to the halls of Congress? I went back to Montana to find out more about this woman I’d always heard about.
MARA ON RANKIN RANCH: I’m on a dirt road, as you can probably hear, and I haven’t seen another car in a while.
MARA: One of my first stops: the spot between the Missouri River and a mountain range called the North Big Belts.
MARA ON RANKIN RANCH: I don’t have any service out here. Oh, there’s somebody.
MARA: The home that Jeannette Rankin grew up isn’t around anymore. But she spent a lot of summers up here. The family’s old ranch home is nestled at the entrance to a rocky mountain gulch.
MARA: Hey - is the Rankin Ranch up this way?
MAN: Yeah this’d probably be them.
MARA: Ok great then I’ll just walk around a little bit
MAN: Hey, are you by yourself?
MAN: Watch for snakes ok?
MARA: Yeah, alright.
MARA: Montana is still a wild place. And it makes sense to me that THIS is where she came from. The landscape is rugged, it’s intense. It makes me feel adventurous, it’s a trait that Rankin showed throughout her whole life.
MARA: There’s this tiny dirt road that I’m on and it goes in between these cliffs.
MARA: Jeannette Rankin was the oldest child in a big family. And they were pretty well-off, but at the beginning of the 20th century in rural Montana, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young women. Rankin got restless - she didn’t want to be stuck in a small town, running the house, taking care of family. So when she was in her 20s, she left - she went to a place where young, ambitious people have gone for a long time.
FADE UP ARCHIVAL 1910s NEW YORK MUSIC: The metropolis of the western world, a romantic panorama of towering spheres and massive structures. A great city.
MARA: Rankin arrived in New York City in 1908. She studied social work. And she spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village, where she was not the most radical lady on the block. This is where anarchist Emma Goldman and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger were making history, around the same time that Rankin arrived. The village was a hotbed for political activism. And it’s where Rankin fell in with a crowd of women who challenged her politically, and socially.
JIM JEAN: Not just lesbians but free love lesbians, socialism
JIM JEAN: anarchists...These women show up in her life from then on.
MARA: Rankin biographers Jim Lopach and Jean Luckowski. I met them in their living room in Missoula, Montana.
JEAN: But how exciting for her you know to encounter women who were accomplished and making their own way financially.
MARA: The women in Greenwich Village became Rankin’s lifelong friends. And according to decades worth of Rankin’s personal letters, some may have also been her lovers.
JIM: I think that the most logical and I think it's a responsible conclusion is that Jeannette Rankin was either bisexual or lesbian.
MARA: Now, Rankin was very private about her personal relationships, so there’s still a lot that historians are still debating. But she never settled down with a man or a woman, she never had kids. It seems New York City was where she started to see a future for herself as an independent, political woman. And this kind of feminism was a big idea in the early 1900s.
LILLIAN: The first feminist movement in the late 19th century and the early 20th century must have been a deliriously wonderful time for her and other women who had ambitions.
MARA: Historian Lillian Faderman.
LILLIAN: Jeannette Rankin became an adult at a very heady period for women who wanted independence and saw themselves as more than the domestic creatures that many women were consigned to during the Victorian era.
MARA: Rankin and her friends were invested in making social reform, with women taking the lead. They said society’s problems could only be fixed if women held elected office and started making policy. And the first step toward taking political power was getting women the vote. After she earned her social work degree, Rankin burst onto the suffrage scene. And she quickly earned a reputation as one of the best campaigners in the whole country. Here’s one part of a speech she gave in 1911.
VOICE OVER, AS IF IN MEGAPHONE: “Men want women in the home and they want them to make it perfect, yet how can they make it so if they have no control of the influences of the home.”
MARA: Rankin campaigned all over the country, and when she had an audience, she made an impact - she wore stylish dresses, she was a striking figure, and was just captivating to watch. One newspaper article described her as having a kind of “luminous” quality when she spoke. But what really made an impression were Rankin’s ideas.
VOICE OVER: “It is beautiful and right that a mother should nurse her child through typhoid fever, but is is also beautiful and right that she should have a voice in regulating the milk supply from which the typhoid resulted.”
MARA: Eventually, Rankin brought her new campaigning skills back to conservative Montana. And she was careful in her suffrage speeches - she didn’t want to come off as too radical. Her friend and fellow suffragist Mary O’Neill told her to be strategic.
VOICE OVER: “All the dope you can about the influence of women in behalf of the children and appeal to the higher standard of motherhood and truer home life… That’s the gush that gets the public. That kind of speech, that’ll do more to make suffragists than all the purely intellectual guff that we might give them in a whole hundred years.”
MARA: Rankin might have been dulling down her message, but that didn’t mean she was boring.
JIM: She was in Lewistown speaking, and she came out in something like a gold...
JIM: Leopard print outfit.
JEAN: She was quite the dresser.
JIM: And they said she was just mesmerizing, compelling.
MARA: Rankin’s other strength was being willing to cover a lot of ground on the campaign trail. And that’s saying something - Montana is the fourth largest state, and in 1910, there were about two people per square mile. But by 1914, all of her road trips and street corner speeches paid off. Montana gave non-Native American women the vote - Native Americans wouldn’t get the vote until they became U-S citizens ten years later.
MARA: So this was how Rankin ended up running for Congress. Campaigning for suffrage was her gateway, her launchpad. Montanans knew her, women could vote for her. Her brother Wellington -- a lawyer -- funded and managed her whole campaign. And in 1916, she did it. She won her seat by a landslide. But electing a woman to congress was not immediately headline news. The morning after the election, Jeannette Rankin said she called up the local papers.
JEANNETTE RANKIN: And I said how did Jeannette Rankin run? And the newspaper said oh, she lost.
MARA: Rankin gave this interview in 1963, when she was in her 80s. You can hear how much she still enjoys telling her victory story.
JEANNETTE RANKIN: And along about 10 or 11 o’clock, Wellington telephoned - he was in Helena and I was in Missoula - that I had won. And so when the women came into sympathize, I said but I had won. I really had won.
MARA: Rankin said the Montana papers didn’t admit she had won for another two days.
JEANNETTE RANKIN: Well they knew from the beginning that I had won. Now why did the newspapers say I hadn’t all that time except for wishful thinking.
MARA: The election was international news. The United States had its first ever congresswoman. And after she took office, letters to Rankin from women started pouring in. Having a female representative created this window into so many women’s lives. They wrote to her about factory conditions, problems on their farms. About having sick children, and the fear of having their sons drafted into War. One woman wrote to Rankin with a desperate plea for help.
MARY: In the correspondence is very poorly written long handwritten letter from a woman named Jesse Nakken who in her letter describes being an abused wife.
MARA: Mary Murphy is a professor of history and philosophy at Montana State University. When she found this letter, she was stunned. Nakken told Rankin about her whole marriage. And in 1917, that was unheard of.
MARY: She was very happy to marry this man who seemed wonderful and on her wedding night he took away her pocketbook because he said she had no need for her own money.
VOICEOVER: He did not swear at me till five month after we were married. I told him I believed I was in a family way. Oh how he cursed at me and said he supposed I would be sickly and he would have to spend on me
MARY: And she then just chronicles a progression of verbal abuse of physical abuse of cutting her off from the community
VOICEOVER: And he knew all I knew of married life was what he told me so he used me rough for six years of our married life, I had to let him—14 to 20 times a week. I could not stand it. I got poor, weighing around 100 lbs.]
MARY: And she figures out how to write to Rankin and ask for help.
MARA: But Murphy says the country’s first congresswoman didn’t have many answers.
MARY: What could she have told her to do. I mean we didn't even have the concept of domestic abuse. A man had a right to his wife's body. She did not have any viable economic choices. There was no such thing as a shelter for abused women.
MARA: Rankin didn’t get to be an advocate for women for very long. She was outspoken and radical, but she also unpopular. In 1917, just days into her first term, Rankin was one of the few members of Congress to vote against WWI, and her critics tore her apart. They said that she was weak, that she couldn’t vote like a man. But the real blow came when Rankin got on the bad side of the biggest corporation in Montana.
MARY: She stood up and defied the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.
MARA: Weeks after that no vote, more than 160 men died in a mining disaster in Butte Montana. The workers went on strike and Rankin sided with them. But going up against the Anaconda Company was a dangerous move.
MARY: Over the course of the early part of the 20th century they take control of practically all the newspapers in the state.They control employment. They control the economy. They have a very strong role in politics.
MARA: Rankin pressed President Wilson to start an investigation into the accident. She also called for the government ownership of metal mines... and the company did not like that.
MARY: It's the political kiss of death.
MARA: The Anaconda Company pressured the state legislature to gerrymander Rankin out of her seat. Lawmakers even had a slogan: “Do you want to keep a woman in Congress?” Rankin lost her bid for reelection after her first term. But twenty years later she ran again, Rankin ran again on a pacifist platform and she won. In 1941, just a day after Pearl Harbor, Rankin was the only member of congress to vote against WW2. And once again, she was politically sidelined.
KAI: So Mara, Jeannette Rankin SHE gets to Congress, and she stakes out these unpopular positions. And those stances led to her losing political leverage?
MARA: Right. So some people who celebrate Rankin say the way she acted in her first term was almost sacrificial. She wasn’t willing to seriously compromise on these major topics, and it cost her her career.
KAI: See, and then that begs the question - how effective was she as a legislator?
MARA: The historians that I spoke to said - not very. I mean she didn’t have any major legislation passed, although she did get the ball rolling on a significant maternal and child welfare bills that passed later on. But other people argue that her meaning is actually symbolic, and it seems like Rankin knew that at the time. She realized that it mattered the stances that the first woman took on war, and labor. Now that’s not to say that Rankin didn’t have her flaws. She used racist rhetoric when she was campaigning for suffrage in conservative areas and she lived off her brother’s money, even though he treated his workers poorly. Plus the people who knew her said that she was notoriously headstrong and difficult to work with. And yet, she was willing to stand up for the people of her state. And I think this is the kind of politicians that a lot of Montanans still yearn for. So many people there still see her as a legend.
BETSY: She’s like the original nasty woman.
MARA: I spoke to Betsy Mulligan-Dague, she’s the director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula, Montana.
MARA: What else do you think about when you think about her?
BETSY: She showed up, you know. And she had great courage in not listening to the voices that were trying to tell her to play it safe. She was willing to stand by her conscience, even though it cost her.
KAI: Okay, but if she’s so symbolic, and is still widely revered for that symbolism, why has Montana not sent another woman in congress since then?
MARA: I think that the easiest answer is that Montana has changed since Rankin’s time. When she was campaigning, she centered her gender as one of her strengths - that because she was a woman she had this valuable perspective that could be used in politics. And that’s an argument that a lot of men aren’t buying anymore. When I brought up the fact that she was the last female representative for the state, most men that I talked to were ambivalent.
VOX MANHATTAN: There’s plenty of women in office. Maybe Montana has just yet to get the right woman that is going to represent Montana views and values.
VOX MANHATTAN: Like with the whole Hillary thing and all that, I just don’t believe women should run for that kind of position of power.
MARA: Why not?
VOX MANHATTAN:They’re either ongoing to be too power hungry to prove themselves or they’re going to be too weak or soft hearted I think.
MARA: But most women had a different response:
VOX MANHATTAN: That’s really depressing. I’ve never thought about it in those terms. That’s horrific.
VOX MANHATTAN:That’s not cool. What the hell’s up with that?
MARA: How do you feel about that?
VOX MANHATTAN:I think it’s a load of dukey. And I hope we elect one to congress this year.
MARA: So you are a supporter of Kathleen Williams I assume?
VOX: I am.
MARA: Williams isn’t the first progressive woman to run for this seat since Rankin. Women ran in the 1970s, the early 2000s, and even in 2016. But Williams and her supporters say that this year could be THE year.
MARA: Hey Kathleen, Mara silvers.
KATHLEEN: Nice to meet you, Mara
MARA: Nice to meet you too, thanks for..
MARA: I met Williams and her campaign staff at the Montana folk festival in Butte. She was wearing a long green summer dress and it was really hot outside. But Williams was walking all over town, talking to voters the whole time.
MAN: Get the job done in November
KATHLEEN: Oh yeah it’s gonna take all of us! So tell your friends! Bowling league! Golf buddies! Poker group!
MARA: Williams was an underdog in the democratic primary this spring - she raised a lot less money than either of the male frontrunners. But she won partly by doing what Rankin did a century ago: driving all over the state. To campaign In tiny towns and far out districts. She’s been telling voters she’s competent, experienced, and ready to take on the chaos of Washington.
KATHLEEN WILLIAMS RALLY: Congress can’t pass a budget. Washington is dysfunctional. Greg Gianforte does not represent us. There is a need, I have the ability, so I’ve stepped up.
MARA: Montana is a fairly red state, even though it has a Democratic governor and a history of Democratic senators. It went 20 points for Trump in 2016. Gianforte, Williams opponent, is a tech entrepreneur -- a millionaire, one of the wealthiest members of Congress. And he has a reputation for having a short fuse. If he’s defeated, it would be a huge political upset. But voters in Butte seemed excited about that possibility.
MAN: Have you met Kathleen Williams? She’s running for congress.
BOB: Hi Kathleen! I’m Bob Henry.
KATHLEEN:Hi Bob, nice to meet you.
BOB: Nice to meet you.
KATHLEEN: I’m running against Gianforte.
BOB: I know that. I’m going to vote for you too.
KATHLEEN: Thank you so much!
WOMAN: I could tell who you are a mile away. Keep up the good work. I’m so proud of you. You kick his butt. Please, please, please!
KATHLEEN: need everyone’s help, right? Yeah, tell your friends.
WOMAN: Oh you got it.
MARA: Williams can come off as a little reserved, but she has a kind of quiet force - it’s a kind of political willpower that I would like to imagine Rankin would respect. And Williams’s is working hard to get out the vote. After she won the primary, a local paper published an article with a photograph from her campaign. She’s down on the ground and it’s the middle of winter, she’s putting snow chains on her tires so she can keep trekking across the state. And when it comes to Rankin, Williams doesn’t shy away from the occasional hat tip.
KATHLEEN WILLIAMS RALLY: And I’ll leave you with this. It’s been over 100 years, and Jeannette Rankin deserves a successor. Join us!
KATHY: So Jeannette Rankin wasn’t just the first female member of Congress. She was also the first queer female member of Congress.
TOBIN: More about that in a minute. You’re listening to Nancy.
KATHY: Hey Nancy Listeners! So over the last couple weeks you’ve heard us talking about this project we’re calling “I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.”
TOBIN: We’ve asked you to share your stories about stuff you’ve been meaning to tell someone important in your life...And we’ve heard from tons of people who have told us about things they’ve wanted to share with old friends, family members… things that may be hard to share, but might just be the key to getting a relationship back on track.
KATHY: Or allowing the other person to know them more deeply.
TOBIN: Exactly. and We are still collecting stories and we really want to hear yours.
KATHY: You can send it to us anonymously, that’s totally OK too.
TOBIN: Go to nancypodcast.org/tell for all the details.
TOBIN: And we're back. Kathy.
TOBIN: So in the first half of the episode we heard the story of Jeanette Rankin the first ever Congresswoman elected in this country.
TOBIN: We thought we would have the reporter behind that story into the studio. Hello Mara.
KATHY: Hi Mara.
TOBIN: How's it going.
KATHY: So you mentioned in your story that Jeannette Rankin was either bisexual or lesbian -- but why haven’t we heard of her as, like, part of Queer History?
MARA: I think that's because there is a lot of people who are missing from Queer History. There's a lot of people who for one reason or another. We have not identified as queer and one of the things that makes it hard to categorize Jeannette Rankin as lesbian or queer or bisexual or gay is that she wasn't using any of those terms to define herself in 1908 or 1910 or 1916 or even. I mean she died in 1973 and that was never a word that she used. But I think that that's because it was a different. It was a different time. And the relationships that she was having with women were not actually that strange for the demographic that Jeannette Rankin is in right. She's white middle class was pursuing education and pursuing a career. And in that demographic that Jeannette Rankin was around a lot of women who for them the the idea of partnering with other women both for friendship but also for romance was a normal part of their existence. There was this period where those romantic friendships were still widely accepted. So a lot of women who were involved in the suffrage movement and the feminist movement at the time fell into that category and it wasn’t strange.
KATHY: So what would have been the difference though, between Jeannette Rankin as a queer woman and someone who was a straight suffragist or feminist at that time?
MARA: Right. There were straight women in those movements as we would understand them at the time but they were still doing very radical non heteronormative things
MARA: And so in that way if women were in heterosexual relationships a lot of them, if they were involved in the suffrage movement, were still radically challenging what it meant to be a woman- what it meant to be a woman in society, a woman in politics, a woman in education all at the same time. And if we didn't know about who Rankin was having romantic relationships with, I think I would be asking myself the same question. Like how am I evaluating her queerness? Am I...Am I judging it just by who she may or may not have slept with or am I judging by how she was living her life at the time? So I don't know if I've come down to an answer on that.
TOBIN: That was so interesting. I'm like, why do we define queerness that way!
KATHY: [LAUGHS] Yeah. I know right.
TOBIN: yeah, It's..
MARA: more about who and how you live your life and less of about who are you sleeping with.
MARA: But it's it's really complicated. I don't know.
KATHY: PICK-UP: So when you were looking into Jeanette Rankins life, you knew she was part of the suffragist and feminist movements at the time. And you also know that she spent some formative years with the crowd in Greenwich Village. But is there anything else that gave you more concrete clues about this aspect of her life?
MARA: Well I think a couple things. There's a lot of correspondence that historians have found between her and a lot of the women that she met in Greenwich Village and those letters told me a part of Jeannette Rankin’s story that I had not heard before and that had not been emphasized when I was growing up in Montana learning about Jeannette Rankin. So for example she had a lot of women in her life that she was close with for decades, she never settled down with one person but they were her support systems they visited each other all the time. They wrote loving affectionate letters to each other, but there were also sexual references and innuendos in the letters. I mean Jeannette Rankin, according to one of the letters would buy lingerie for one woman with pink Lacy bows and things like that. It's all described, I mean the receipts are in the history.
TOBIN: There are literal receipts.
MARA: There are literal receipts. And so, and in addition to that there was other references to to sex when they were staying with each other. And again these are all different women that she that she met at different times or kind of fell in and out of touch with but people were not using the same types of words that we're using today to describe their sexuality then. So Jeannette Rankin was not out here waving a flag that said lesbian.
TOBIN: So privately, she was having relationships romantic with women… Do you think that’s something voters would have had a problem with, had they had known about it?
KATHY: It's definitely something that she was not trying to emphasize. I mean she wasn't bringing the women that she was seeing along with her on the campaign trail all the time and actually her brother, Wellington, who managed and funded her whole campaign. He was kind of the political strategist behind her, encouraged her not to bring her Greenwich Village friends out to Montana. However there are examples of other women who were more open about their partnerships at the time and they managed to keep living their day to day lives. Jane Addams was one - several presidents of prominent female colleges at the time and over the course of her life Jeannette Rankin wasn't in hiding about this but she was also strategic. She was private. She was strategic about how much she told to the public.
TOBIN: Right. So you mentioned in your story that in some places she used racist rhetoric when she was campaigning for the right to vote… could you say more about that?
MARA: Right.I mean Rankin is not a saint in that regard at all. She was very very politically strategic, so she was campaigning for suffrage around the country and no matter where she went, she tailored her argument to what the politics of that state were at the time. And so when she was campaigning in conservative areas, a lot of the pushback from white male politicians was to say well if we give women the vote then black women or women of color will overpower us at the polls. And she's on record saying: 'you've successfully kept black men away from the polls for decades. Don't act like this is impossible for you to configure - like it's, the argument doesn't end there. Why couldn't you do the same for black women?' It's such a terrible thing to read now. And she is a more complicated person than those statements. I mean she was she was progressive on a lot of other fronts and later in her life, there are other examples of her being an advocate for people of color. But in those moments, she was arguing for something very strategic that eventually would help black women and would help women of color. But she but she was willing to compromise them in those- in those moments.
KATHY: That's happened a lot in history.
MARA: Consistently. Yeah.
TOBIN: Well so let's do a little fast forwarding to this moment. We have Kathleen Williams who's running for Congress in Montana right now. She is not queer, correct?
MARA: She's not queer.
MARA: But it's interesting.
TOBIN: How so.
MARA: Because there have been other queer women who have ran for this seat and they've not been elected and their gayness has been a major part in that. Montana is a much more conservative place than it was in some ways when Rankin was running. But Kathleen Williams is straight and because she is straight, she can identify more with male voters in certain ways and not be construed as a threat. So for example she's a hunter. She is a fisher. She loves the outdoors. She owns guns. She can present herself as kind of a more masculine appealing person but she’s not gay. As opposed to Denise Juneau, for example who ran in 2016 who is gay. She is also Native American and both of those factors together were two things that made her too progressive too radical for a lot of white male voters in Montana to support.
TOBIN: Oh come on Montana do better.
MARA: That's what came out in my reporting and in my experience living there. I mean you can have a lot of conversations with people about different political ideas and different things that matter to them. But at the end of the day sexual orientation and race are still really major factors for white male voters straight male voters in Montana. I talked to one guy who was a 60 year old cattle rancher from Manhattan, Montana - population 15 hundred very small. And when I met him he identified as somebody in the political middle he was didn't identify as conservative or liberal but he votes for Republicans more consistently and he said “Well I would be open to voting for a woman as long as she really represented me and represented my values and she would have to be like from Montana.” There's like this whole thing about people coming in from out of state who are who aren't real Montanans. So I asked about about Denise Juneau who's Native American and said “what about Denise Juneau. Did you feel like she could represent you.” and he kind of hedged around it for a little bit and said “no she's too out there for me. She's a little too too progressive.” And I said Did you know that she's gay. And he said “I did know that. That's not a great thing for me.” And I said why not. And he just said “I just don't feel that it's right. And that doesn't mean that I don't respect her as a person but I wouldn't vote for a politician like that.” And it was this moment of clarity for me that there are still those very firm opinions that make sexual orientation a massive part of somebody's identity in a way that is threatening or alienating to a lot of people.
TOBIN: So could Jeannette Rankin be elected today?
MARA: I think the general consensus on that is no. One because if she was living the life that she was living then today everybody would know about it. All the receipts would be on Twitter. And there would be a lot of pushback against the idea that not only is she a lesbian but she's a promiscuous lesbian who doesn't have a stable partner. On top of just the general idea that she was a really progressive person for her time I mean she was pushing back against big corporations and Montana mining interests she was a huge advocate for labor unions. She was a pacifist, she voted against World War One and World War II. I mean all of these things put her like to the left of Bernie Sanders... Plus being gay. So I mean- or what we would now today consider gay. So I would find that very hard to believe that she could be elected in Montana today.
TOBIN: Well Mara thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.
KATHY: Thank you.
MARA: Thank you.
TOBIN: You're going back to Montana anytime soon.
MARA: I think in December I think I'm going to find a cabin in the woods.
KATHY: Cold? Yes.
MARA: But with a fire not so bad. So there's that.
KATHY: That was Mara Silvers, a reporter in WNYC’s newsroom.
TOBIN: You can listen to more of the episode in which Mara’s story appeared -- and the entire, fantastic series, “United States of Anxiety” -- wherever you get your podcasts.
KATHY: Big thanks to the whole team there.
TOBIN: And that is our show!
KATHY: Make sure to vote!
TOBIN: It’s super important!
KATHY: Credits time. Our producer…
TOBIN: Matt Collette!
KATHY: Sound designer…
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom!
KATHY: Production fellow…
TOBIN: Temitayo Fagbenle!
TOBIN: Jenny Lawton!
KATHY: Executive Producer…
TOBIN: Paula Szuchman!
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.