“The day has come!” Nancy Pelosi, who 10 years ago became the first woman to be speaker of the House, told the crowd. “We have nominated a woman for President of the United States.”*
168 years ago at the Seneca Falls Convention, under the urging of Frederick Douglass, suffrage was included in the Declaration of Sentiments. A document produced and signed at the end of the Seneca Falls Convention. The document caused great controversy but the sentiment on suffrage soon became central to the women’s movement.
Women’s rights activists fought for more than 70 years before women received the right to vote.
Almost one hundred years after suffrage was attained, Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated by a major party for President of the United States.
But, Clinton is not the first woman to run for the presidency. Courageous women in the 19th and 20th centuries ran as third party candidates, often causing controversy and always taking a step forward for women.
Following the 1868 ratification of the 14th Amendment affirming that African Americans were citizens entitled to the rights of citizens, women objected to language in the amendment which provided African American men with the right to vote but did not enfranchise women.
As the women’s suffrage movement intensified, on May 30, 1872, Representative Stevenson Archer of Maryland expressed concern and even horror.
“A monstrous army is coming down on us—a hundred thousand whirlwinds in petticoats—which we must meet firmly or be overcome by the storm.”
But, Archer acknowledged that the vast Academy of Music in New York City had not been large enough to accommodate the crowd waiting to hear Victoria Woodhull’s speech on the “revolution of our period.”
Woodhull was an equal rights leader and first woman candidate for president of the United States.
The seriousness with which the woman’s movement must be taken in order to defeat it, Archer felt, rested in part on the earnestness of the women seeking what they called “their rights.” Archer worried that the suffragists “could not be more in earnest if each were assured of a place in President Victoria Woodhull’s cabinet on the 4th of March, 1873.”
Woodhull’s revolutionary run for the presidency is even more remarkable with her choice of running mate - African American leader and former slave Frederick Douglass. Douglass was the first African American nominated for the vice presidency.
Belva Ann Lockwood is not well-known today but she was the second woman to run for the U.S. presidency.
Lockwood built a legal career after fighting for admittance to law school. In 1869, she became the first woman allowed to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888, although she couldn’t even vote for herself.
Lockwood did leave a legacy. She is the namesake of Lockwood, California, established in 1888. In 1986, she was commemorated on a 17 cent postage stamp.
Women received the right to vote in 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, but suffrage did not result in more women candidates for President. It would be 80 years before another woman ran for President.
On May 20, 1959, Senator George Aiken of Vermont inserted into the Congressional Record a letter to the editor of This Week Magazine by Maurine Neuberger, the wife of Senator Richard Neuberger of Oregon.
The letter was written in response to remarks from James Farley, a prominent politician, and businessman, who reportedly said he would “never have a woman for President.”
Farley claimed that a woman could not be President because women lacked the “know-how” and experience. Maurine Neuberger cited Senator Margaret Chase Smith as a woman who did have the experience, as a telephone operator, circulation manager of a newspaper, executive of a woolen mill, lieutenant colonel in the Woman’s Air Force Reserve, secretary to a Congressman, member of the House of Representatives, and Senator.
Farley claimed women were too emotional to cope with the burdens of the White House. Maurine Neuberger contended that emotional instability was linked with crime and women, while numbering over half of the population, made up only to 11 percent of major crime arrests.
When Farley claimed that a woman President would not have enough prestige to succeed in global negotiations, Maurine Neuberger said, “Now isn’t that just like a man?”
In November 1960, Maurine Neuberger won a special election to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by her husband’s death.
In 1964, Margaret Chase Smith ran for the Republican Party nomination. Although she did not win the nomination, Senator Smith was the first woman to have her name in contention for the nomination at the convention of a major political party.
Senator Smith was not the only woman in the 20th century to declare herself a candidate for President. After the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, interest in the advancement of women grew.
A number of African American women put themselves forward as candidates, including Charlene Mitchell.
In 1958, Charlene Mitchell testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee where she refused to answer most questions on the grounds afforded her by the Constitution.
In 1968, Charlene Mitchell ran for U.S. presidency as the Community Party of the USA candidate.
On November 13, 1969, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina presented concerns about the role of Communists in the Vietnam protest movement, and specifically mentioned Charlene Mitchell, secretary of the World Congress of Women’s Black Liberation Commission and teacher of the Marxist Theory of the State and Evolution at the Center for Marxist Education in New York City.
Mitchell, Thurmond warned, believed that the Communist Party focus should support the Black Liberation Movement and its leaders, and should link “the struggles around the world and in Vietnam with the fight for democratic rights here at home.”
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress.
Four years later, the Equal Rights Amendment was sent to the States for ratification and Representative Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Chisholm did not receive the nomination but continued her career in politics. The Equal Rights Amendment never received the requisite number of States required for ratification, and in 1982 the final deadline passed, ending the effort.
Chisholm represented the twelfth district of New York until 1981. At the time of her death in 2005, Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey described her as one of the finest Americans to grace the public stage in his lifetime.
He said that when she was elected to Congress, the nation was in the midst of dramatic change and she challenged the status quo refusing to be intimidated by what she called “a small group of old men” in Washington. He said she represented the “best qualities of our democracy” and spoke of her “barrier-breaking run” for the Democratic nomination.
In 1984, towards the end of the Cold War, Representative Geraldine Ferraro was selected by Senator Walter Mondale to run as Vice President on the Democratic ticket.
Following the convention, Representative Barbara Mikulski inserted an article in the Record in which Richard Fogg, one of her constituents and the founder and director of the Center for the Study of Conflict, expressed his thoughts on the possibility that a woman president might act differently from a man in a nuclear crisis.
Fogg imagined a woman might simply say “No” to the demands of a nuclear aggressor and enforce her decision with a nonviolent action organized by governments and prepared in advance. “This has never been done before,” he noted, “so we don’t know whether it will work. It may be progress that comes as a surprise in the future.”
This year, women pursued both the Republican and Democratic nominations.
Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, ran for the Republican nomination losing to Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State won the Democratic nomination!
On the 100th anniversary if the 1913 historic women’s march down Pennsylvania Avenue in support of the right to vote, Representative Marcia Fudge said that although women “have achieved a great deal in the last 100 years, it is quite evident that our journey is not complete. We still have to fight for the rights of all Americans to participate in the electoral process. The struggle continues.”
Over the last two centuries, women have struggled for equal rights and overcome the odds. The nomination and possible election of the first woman president is a culmination of these struggles.
Whether Hillary Clinton wins the general election or not the question is no longer “Can a woman be President?”
The nomination of Hillary Clinton changes that question to a statement: Yes, a woman can be President.
Learn more about primary sources for women’s studies.
*“At the Democratic convention, women seize their moment – and momentum.” Dana Milbank, Washington Post, July 27, 2016
Congressional Globe, May 30, 1872, Appendix, p. 632
In Celebration of the Unveiling of a Statue of Frederick Douglass in the United States Capitol, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 158 Cong Rec E 1589, Sept. 21, 2012
National Women’s History Museum Act of 2009, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 155 Cong Rec E 2555, October 15, 2009
In Commemoration of Women’s History Month, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 154 Cong Rec E 369, March 12, 2008
Lockwood Celebrates Centennial of its Post Office, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 134 Cong Rec H 6598, August 08, 1988
Congressional Record Bound Edition, May 10, 1959, p. A217
Southern California District of the Communist Party. Structure -- Objectives -- Leadership. Part 3, Hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Feb. 24-25, 1959
Congressional Record Bound Edition, November 13, 1969, p. 33982
Congressional Record Bound Edition, January 4, 2005, p. 27
Thoughts on a Woman President and a Nuclear Crisis, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 131 Cong Rec E 1164, March 27, 1985
The Achievements of Women, Congressional Record Daily Edition, 159 Cong Rec H 938, March 4, 2013