Edna Rankin ’18

Full name: Edna Bertha Rankin McKinnon

University of Montana School of Law, Class of 1918
Birth Control Reformer

Biography of Ms. McKinnon — Wilma Dykeman, Too Many People, Too Little Love — Edna Rankin McKinnon: Pioneer for Birth Control (1974)


+++++21 October 1893, in Missoula, Montana


+++++John Rankin and Olive Pickering


+++++Youngest of seven children. Jeannette Rankin was the eldest; she became the first woman in the United States elected to Congress. Wellington Rankin, a brother, was a lawyer, attorney general of Montana, associate justice of the Supreme Court of Montana, United States Attorney for the district of Montana, and one of Montana’s largest cattle ranchers.

Undergraduate Education:

  • Wellesley College
  • University of Wisconsin
  • B.A., University of Montana 1916

Legal Education:

+++++University of Montana School of Law 1918

Admitted to Practice:

+++++Montana 1918

Law Practice:

+++++with brother, Wellington, but left in less than a year


+++++John W. McKinnon in 1919. The marriage lasted eleven years.


+++++Dorothy Pickering and John Wallace McKinnon III


  • Sales representative, then manager, Best and Company (NY)
  • Legal Division, Resettlement Administration (DC)
  • Executive Director of the National Committee for Federal Legislation on Birth Control, a division of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau
  • Field Worker for the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau in Montana, 1937
  • Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Association, Chicago
  • Field Worker, Pathfinder Fund

+++++During her years in family planning, Rankin visited 32 states, helping to establish family planning clinics. Between 1960 and 1966, Rankin traveled in India, Africa, and the Middle East promoting family planning. After retiring in 1966, Rankin took one more tour, traveling to Indonesia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia doing her family planning organizing and advocacy.


+++++5 April 1978, in Carmel, California

24 August 1916 — Mineral Independent

+++++“Miss Edna Rankin of Missoula, the charming sister of Miss Jeannette Rankin, aspiring to the republican nomination for congresswoman, was in the city Friday. Miss Edna is some live little campaigner, and the republican who, after an interview with her refuses to vote for her sister, should be taken out and shot at sunrise. Miss Rankin states that the candidacy is gaining ground every day throughout the state.”

15 April 1917 — Daily Missoulian

+++++“Miss Edna Rankin, sister of Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin and a law student in the State University, spoke on ‘The Woman Lawyer.’ Miss Rankin said that just as the whole world is trying to overthrow thrones and give the power of government to the people, the real rulers, so there is going on in America a miniature struggle to place woman beside man on an equal basis with man in the field of law. She told of the various departments which are open to women, juvenile court work, legislative work, criminal cases, lands, wills, patent rights, court and office work, and divorce cases.”

2 March 1919 — Butte Miner

+++++“Announcement has been made in Washington, D. C. of the engagement of Miss Edna Rankin, daughter of Mrs. John Rankin, and sister of Miss Jeannette Rankin, member of congress from Montana, to John Wallace McKinnon Jr. of Missoula and the Bitter Root valley. The ceremony will be solemnized in Washington within a short time. Miss Rankin spent her childhood here and received her education at Wellesley, the University of Montana and the University of Wisconsin. She also took the degree of L.L. B. at the law school of the University of Montana. She was admitted to practice law in Montana before she went to Washington to manage the campaign of her sister last fall. She is a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. Mr. McKinnon took his degree of A. B. from Harvard in 1912 and his L.L. B. from the same university in 1915. He has been admitted to practice law in New York and Massachusetts. He has recently returned from army service. He is now manager of the Bitter Root Canning company.”

13 February 1953 — Chicago Heights Star

“‘Family Planning in the Orient’ to be Meeting Topic”
+++++Mrs. Robert Stracke, Douglas Avenue, Flossmoor, is opening her home for a meeting on Friday which will feature Mrs. Edna Rankin McKinnon. . .
+++++Following the dessert luncheon at 1:30 p.m., Mrs. McKinnon will speak on ‘Family Planning in the Orient.’ Director of the Planned Parenthood association of Chicago, she has made a study of this field in far areas of the world and for this address will appear in a costume typical of the Orient.”

10 April 1974 — Clovis News-Journal

“Lady Lawyer Pioneered Early Fight Against Overpopulation”
+++++“Edna Rankin McKinnon really had few ambitions:  she was a delicately pretty and somewhat frivolous young girl, who felt that with her marriage to a wealthy young Harvard man she had found her place in life.
+++++Yet she became internationally known 45 years ago, as the pioneer in a subject almost never mentioned by ladies in those days:  birth control.
+++++She was accused of being an early day feminist, although that was the label more appropriately applied to her sister, Congressman Jeannette Rankin.
+++++‘Humanist’ would be a better description of Edna McKinnon, according to her biographer, Wilma Dykeman, who tells of her life and crusade in a book, “Too Many People, Too Little Love.”
+++++Mrs. McKinnon at age 80 still displays the enthusiasm and sincerity that marked her career.
+++++‘It was nothing I planned to do,’ she said in an interview. ‘My brother, Wellington, had practically ordered me to take a degree in law after I left Wellesley and the University of Wisconsin.
+++++‘Law didn’t come easy. I had to study hard. But I did receive my degree from the University of Montana, and became the first native-born Montana women to be admitted to the bar in that state.’
+++++‘Firsts’ had been racked up by that time by her sister Jeannette as well. In Congress, she had introduced the first bill to grant women citizenship independent of their husbands, and the first bill recommending subsidy for health care and for teaching women hygiene during pregnancy and early maternity.
+++++It was her sister who helped Edna find a job with the Resettlement Administration in Washington at a time when it became necessary to support herself and her daughter. Soon after that, she attended a public lecture on birth control.
+++++‘I was electrified,’ she said. ‘My questions tumbled out faster than the speaker could answer them.  I had never before heard the subject discussed.
+++++‘And I thought that if my own confusion and ignorance were multiplied millions of times, then the needs of the women of the world were staggering.’
+++++She was employed by Margaret Sanger, a true pioneer in the field, who went to prison eight times for attempting to open birth control clinics. Later she was employed by Dr. Clarence Gamble who organized the Maternal Health Association and the Pathfinder Fund which supported family planning in this country and abroad.
+++++She worked for Pathfinder for 32 years, seven of them in foreign countries. The work now is supported by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), but Mrs. McKinnon retired eight years ago, at the age of 72.
+++++‘Such tremendous changes had taken place in the status of women between my first visits to foreign countries, and my last, when I went around the world for the International Planned Parenthood Association,’ she said.
+++++‘When I first visited Indonesia they were shocked that I would ride in a hired cart by myself; in Saudi Arabia, a woman never walked down the street alone without the company of a man.  Even a little boy would make it proper.’
+++++It was in Saudi Arabia that she fell down airport stairs, dropping luggage and packages, and while the men turned to stare, not one man offered to help. . . .
+++++‘Helping a woman to her feet was just not even considered.’ Mrs. McKinnon had supported equal rights for women ever since 1913, when she joined a suffrage parade down Pennsylvania Avenue when President Woodrow Wilson was reelected. ‘No one booed or hissed us,’ she said. ‘We were cheered. It was grand.’
+++++As a young woman, competing for a job, she noticed discrimination. ‘A company hired me because of my law degree, and at the same time hired a young man with a bachelor of arts degree. His starting salary was $2,000 a year higher than mine.’
+++++But bitterness has had no place in her life, and her campaigns here and abroad have been conducted with reason rather than abrasion. ‘It’s only by correcting overpopulation that we will correct world hunger, aggression, conservation, economies,’ she said.”

One thought on “Edna Rankin ’18

  1. Pingback: A little history: Jeanette and Edna Rankin - Digging Up Dead Relatives:

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