New school named after Jeannette Rankin

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Workers pour concrete at the new elementary school on Airport Road. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake file)

Kalispell's newest elementary school currently under construction on Airport Road will be named after Jeannette Rankin — Montana's first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.

The decision was unanimous at a Kalispell Public School Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday.

A 14-member committee made the recommendation after receiving 50 submissions from the community.

The district had set submission guidelines asking that a nominee be a person who has either contributed significantly to the development of the community; played a key role in supporting youth; given in service to communities, region and state; or contributed in other positive ways in support of youth and community.

“No. 1 was Jeannette Rankin, a person of historical significance for the state of Montana,” trustee and committee member Bette Albright said while presenting the results, adding that the recommendation followed the district's tradition of naming elementary schools after people of historical significance.

“Also, the other four [elementary schools] had been named after males and so maybe it was time to have another female,” Albright said.

Lillian Peterson is the only other elementary school in the district named after a notable female. The district's remaining elementary schools are named after Sidney Edgerton, Morton Elrod, Cornelius Hedges and Charles M. Russell. These people impacted history in numerous ways, such as advancing support for national parks, or did important work as naturalists, botanists, attorneys, reporters, politicians, artists or state or county school superintendents.

Born in Missoula to a rancher and schoolteacher in 1880, Rankin went on to earn a biology degree in 1902 and later obtained a master's in social work. During her lifetime, she was an activist, politician and pacifist.

She was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916 as a progressive Republican. While Montana gave women the right to vote in 1914 — due to the efforts of suffragists and leaders such as Rankin — her feat is described as “miraculous” by www.biography.com because a significant number of women across America still did not have that right. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

As a pacifist, she made history for being the only person in Congress to vote against World War II. She had also voted against World War I.

Board chairman Lance Isaak said while he doesn't know a lot about Rankin, “I do know she's a great individual who did stand up for her beliefs and was opposed by many and it's incredible she was elected as a congresswoman [at the time].”

Ten of the submissions were locations or sites, which the committee did consider. The committee's second and third choice in naming the school was Demersville — a brazen frontier town once located south of Kalispell — and Lone Pine — which can be viewed from the property.

Gene Boyle, a longtime coach, dean of students and activities director at Flathead High School, was also a popular submission, Albright noted. She said the committee recommended naming the elementary gym in honor of Boyle. Trustee Frank Miller then suggested that since Boyle's presence was well-known at Flathead, his name should be saved for consideration of the new high school gym, which will soon undergo renovation and expansion. Other trustees agreed.

Rankin Elementary is anticipated to open August 2018. The school is part of a $25.3 million elementary district bond issue approved by voters last fall. The facility is expected to accommodate about 450 students and help relieve overcrowding in the district's other elementary schools.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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