How it all began: A suffragist, an inspiration and a biography about Jeannette Rankin

Belle Fligelman Winestine, suffragist

Suffragist Belle Fligelman Winestine was the inspiration for Flight of the Dove, the first Jeannette Rankin biography written by Kevin S. Giles. He published a new and expanded edition in October 2016, now entitled One Woman Against War. This photo was taken at a book signing ceremony at the Montana Historical Society. Photo by Gene Fischer

(Today we’re going back to tell about my original biography of Jeannette Rankin, Flight of the Dove. This story, which appeared in the Missoulian many years ago, explains how I got started researching Rankin’s life and writing the first book. The roots of my new and expanded edition, entitled One Woman Against War, can be traced to when I met Belle Fligelman Winestine, an early Montana suffragist. – Kevin S. Giles)

By Deirdre McNamer.

Life is sometimes like that. Two events come together in an uncanny way and you suddenly find yourself on a whole new tack.

For Helena newsman Kevin Giles, the coincidence took place one day in October 1976. Giles, who was editor of the Independent Record’s lifestyle section, had just interviewed Belle Fligelman Winestine, a tiny, fiery octogenarian who had been a leader in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900s.

Winestine had also served as administrative secretary to Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin in 1917, and she convinced Giles that the really INTERESTING story would be an account of Rankin’s life and work.

Giles came back to the newsroom, fired up about the idea. And “the very instant” he got back, he was introduced to Oral Bullard, a Portland-area publisher who happened to be in Helena on a business trip. The two discussed Giles’ idea for a Jeannette Rankin biography and Bullard offered Giles a $2,000 advance to get the project rolling.

The result is “The Flight of the Dove,” published in late July of this year (1980) by The Touchstone Press, Bullard’s publishing company.

Rankin was a very public person – a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage, the first woman elected to Congress, a constant crusader for peace and the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. involvement in both World War I and World War II.

Yet, despite her indelible imprint on public affairs, attempts to find out what really made Rankin “tick” can be frustrating, says Giles. “A lot of people knew Jeannette Rankin,” he says, “but mostly superficially. It is a great tragedy that she didn’t open up to people more.”

Giles had to glean most of his information from scattered public record and interviews with those who knew Rankin during her long, productive, life. (She was born in 1880 on the family ranch six miles northwest of Missoula, and died in 1973.)

“She had a two-sided personality,” says Giles. “She could be very persuasive. And she could also be biting and caustic. She could intimidate people quickly …. Yet she had a special ability to convince people of anything.”

And the message she took with such passion to the country was this: that neither men nor women will be free until war is abolished. And women – exercising political power – are the key to peace because they are the ones who value it.

Flight of the Dove is Giles’ first book. He grew up in Deer Lodge and graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Journalism in 1974. He then moved to Brisbane, Australia, where his wife, Becky, had a teaching job. Giles worked for “The Courier Mail,” a daily newspaper in Brisbane, as a reporter and copy editor.

Giles does not have updated sales figures for “Flight of the Dove,” but says that it has been “selling well” since it came out in mid-summer. On the strength of the book, Giles lectured to history and women’s studies classes at the University of Washington, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. And he has received letters from a host of Jeannette Rankin admirers. “Her memory attracts cause-oriented, peace-oriented people,” he says.

Giles notes that he has written scores of newspaper stories about subjects that reflect the changing roles of women. And, he says, “I see women really coming of age. That may be why this Jeannette Rankin book seems, somehow, to fit in right now.”

Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. One Woman Against War was published in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)

4 thoughts on “How it all began: A suffragist, an inspiration and a biography about Jeannette Rankin

  1. Do you know if Fligelman’s store was owned by Belle and Freida’s parents?

    I found a sack from their store with an interesting quote on the front.

      • here is the quote:

        “It is not alone the quality of our Merchandise, the Courtesy of our Salespeople, the service we render our Patrons – it is the dominating spirit of FAIRNESS and JUSTICE TO ALL that has
        made Fligelman’s a favorite place to trade.”

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