There have been some exciting moments for women's history in this year's election, none the least of which was the announcement earlier this week that Hillary Clinton has likely clinched the nomination for the Democratic ticket for president.
Of course, she's not the first woman to run for president, or to even win the nomination of her party. I have seen some images and posts going around talking about a few of these women from history who've had the gall to stand up and declare their intention for the highest office in the land, but I wonder how much anyone actually knows about them, their work, or their lives?
According to Wikipedia, there have been over seventy women who have run for the office of president. I am sure all of these women have a fascinating story, and you can rest assured I will be researching them for future posts.
For now, though, I want to share a bit of info about some of the more historically prominent women whose lives and work have inspired me over the years. I've selected five to get us started.
1. Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull was a truly fascinating woman. Her early childhood was characterized by terrible abuse by her father, a con man and snake oil salesman. Probably to escape, she married at the age of fifteen to her doctor, who turned out to be an alcoholic and philanderer. She divorced him, and then married again, this time to a former colonel in the Union Army. Somewhere during these two marriages, she formed her controversial support of the concept of Free Love, speaking out against the double-standard that seemed to accept the extramarital dalliances of men while castigating women for the same behavior.
"I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere."In 1870, she and her sister opened the first female-owned and run stock brokerage. The two then turned around and used their earnings to start a female-owned and operated newspaper, the Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, which was the primary source of publicity for Victoria Woodhull's campaign for president, as well as an outlet for their feminist views on controversial topics such as sex education, abortion, free love, women's suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, legalized prostitution, and labor reform.
In 1871, she testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee on the issue of women's suffrage, claiming that women already had the right to vote as granted all citizens in the 14th and 15th Amendments. She was the first woman to ever petition the Congress, and this caught the attention of suffrage leaders, who postponed their annual meeting to attend the hearings.
"Women are the equals of men before the law, and are equal in all their rights."She was nominated for by the Equal Rights Party in 1872, the party formed by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other prominent suffrage leaders, and ran under a platform that all citizens of the United States were equal under the law and should be granted all the rights and responsibilities confirmed in the Constitution. Their intention was to make their point by voting in the election, despite the laws that prevented them. In fact, Susan B. Anthony was arrested after voting in this election, and fined $1000.
Victoria, though, was unable to vote for herself. Just a few days before the election, though, she was arrested on charges of obscenity based on her account of a scandalous affair between prominent abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher and his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton. There are some historians who claim her campaign was just another publicity stunt by the suffrage movement, and it may be the case. Victoria Woodhull would have been ineligible for the office of president even if by some miracle she'd been elected. On Inauguration Day, March 4, 1873, she was only 34 years old.
2. Belva Ann Lockwood
In 1884, and again in 1888, the National Equal Rights Party again put forth a prominent woman as their candidate for president. This time Belva Lockwood, attorney, educator, and author.
Belva was always a bright young woman, and many expected her to achieve great things in her life, but I doubt any of them knew exactly how far she would go. At the age of 14, she was already working as a teacher. A few years later, she married and had a child, but was suddenly left widowed and living in poverty. Against the wishes of her family and friends, as well as against the social norms of the day, she attended college with the goal of becoming a teacher and possibly running her own school. In 1857 she graduated with honors."I do not believe in sex distinction in literature, law, politics, or trade - or that modesty and virtue are more becoming to women than to men, but wish we had more of it everywhere."
She took a position as headmistress, but quickly learned she was paid significantly lower than her male colleagues. This infuriated her, and also sparked her interest in studying the law, and eventually led to her pursuing a law degree. After attending classes and passing her exams at the National University Law School, she was denied a diploma because she was a woman. Belva, again infuriated, wrote a letter to President Grant asking him to intercede on her behalf. Within a week, it arrived in the mail. At the age of 43, she became one the first female lawyers in the US.
She quickly gained a reputation as an advocate for women's issues ranging from equal pay, women's suffrage, and women's equality under the law. She became the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar, and the first female lawyer to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court."I know we can't abolish prejudice through laws, but we can set up guidelines for our actions by legislation."
3. Margaret Chase Smith
"I have few illusions and no money, but I'm staying for the finish. When people keep telling you, you can't do a thing, you kind of like to try."She was a life long moderate Republican representing the state of Maine. Her first trip to Washington, DC, though was as the wife and secretary of Clyde Smith, elected to Congress in 1936. Tragically, he suffered a heart attack, and was forced to step down. He asked her to run in his stead, and she won the special election easily, becoming the first woman elected to Congress from Maine. Three months later, she ran and won again in her own right.
Her tenure in Congress is best characterized by her work to promote and support women serving in the armed forces. Known as the "Mother of the WAVES," she introduced legislation to create that organization during World War II, as well as bills giving women permanent status in the military following the war.
"Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics."In 1948, she ran for the Senate, and won in an incredible landslide. In the primary, she received more votes than all three of her opponents combined, and in the general election she won with 79% of the vote. In doing so, she became the first woman to serve in the Senate from Maine, as well as the first US woman to serve in both houses of Congress.
In 1950, she took center state in American politics when she vocally opposed the actions of her fellow senator Joseph McCarthy as a witch hunt, and gave her "Declaration of Conscience" speech criticizing her own party for its "philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty" in its rush to attack communism and gain a "political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear."
In 1960, she was opposed by Democrat Lucia Cormier, making this the first time that two women were vying for the same Senate seat. She continued to serve as Senator for Maine until 1972.
4. Shirley Chisholm
In 1972 Shirley Chisholm became the first black candidate for President of the United States running under a major political party. Like the other women candidates before her in history, she had little hope of winning, and ran "to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo."
Her background was in early childhood education, which helped to form many of her political views around supporting families and improving educational opportunities for children living in poverty. Her own childhood in Brooklyn, New York, was one of intense poverty. Her parents could not make ends meet, and finally sent Shirley and her sisters to live with extended family in Barbados, where she lived with her grandmother and received an excellent education in the British style.
"Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn't need the black revolution to tell me that."Returning to Brooklyn, she attended a prestigious girls high school and then attended Brooklyn College, earning a Bachelors of Art in 1948. She went on to earn a Masters in elementary education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1952.
While earning her degree and serving as director of child care facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as educational consultant for the Division of Day Care, she was also an active volunteer with several political organizations, including the League of Women Voters. As her interest in politics grew, she began to seek out more opportunities to volunteer and serve.
In 1965, she was elected as a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, where she served from 1965 to 1968. She showed her political stripes by getting unemployment benefits extended to domestic workers and sponsoring the introduction of a program providing disadvantaged students the chance to enter college while receiving intensive remedial education.
In 1968 her efforts paid off when she was named as the Democratic National Committeewoman from New York. And later that year she was elected to the Congress, making her the first African American woman to serve in that body.
One of her most notable efforts in Congress came quite soon after her election, when she was appointed to the House Agricultural Committee. Feeling as though she was purposely placed on a typically rural committee despite (or because of) her urban background, she still managed to make her mark. Together with Bob Dole, she spearheaded the creation of the Food Stamp Program to best make use of surplus food, benefiting both the farmers he represented and the poor urban families she was fighting for.
"They think I am trying to take power from them. The black man must step forward, but that doesn't mean the black woman must step back."She often ran against black men, and often claimed she received more discrimination from them based on her gender than she did for being black. Regardless, she was still often under attack, both figuratively and literally, as an outspoken black woman.
5. Bella Abzug
Bella Abzug, lawyer, feminist, and social activist, also ran for president in 1972, although she gained even fewer votes.
Her storied career as an outspoken liberal began when she was admitted to the New York Bar in 1947. Almost immediately she began taking labor and civil rights cases.
In 1970 she decided to take her causes to Washington, and ran for Congress representing Manhattan's West Side. She easily defeated the 14-year incumbent. She used this position to promote liberal causes such as the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and to voice her opposition to the war in Vietnam. In 1971, she petitioned Congress to designate August 26 as Women's Equality Day, to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment. She was one of the first members of Congress to openly support gay rights, and partnered with Ed Koch to introduce the first federal gay rights bill, the Equality Act of 1974.
"This woman's place is in the House—the House of Representatives!"In 1971 she joined Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and other leading feminists to found the National Women's Political Caucus to serve as a tool to train and support up-and-coming feminist politicians. She was appointed to chair the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, tapped to plan the 1977 National Women's Conference by President Gerald Ford, and led President Jimmy Carter's Commission on Women.
"I've been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prizefighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella."After her defeat in 1976, she ran unsuccessfully for the Senate. Out of politics, she continued to promote her views of feminism and equality, forming several influential organizations and writing several important articles and books.
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