Today’s post was written by Tiffany Walker, Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland
Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic Presidential nomination, thus becoming the first woman in United States history to lead the ticket of a major political party. However, Clinton was not the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Shirley Chisholm is best known for becoming the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972. Elected to Congress in 1968, Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She represented New York’s 12th Congressional District from 1968 to 1983.
Chisholm’s campaign slogan, “unbought and unbossed,” recalled her rise from the daughter of working class immigrant parents to her success as a voice for the people in her capacity as Congresswoman. Despite the drive and will to succeed, Chisolm’s campaign only managed to spend $300,000 in funding.
From the start, Chisholm faced struggles and opposition during her 1972 presidential campaign. She was ignored by much of the Democratic establishment, struggled with being seen as a symbol, as opposed to a serious political candidate, and faced opposition from all sides including from prominent black male colleagues. Chisholm expressed her frustrations with this aspect of her campaign a decade later stating, “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.”
Still, Chisolm persisted and later remarked in her book The Good Fight, “I ran for the presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo… The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start.”
After her political career had come to an end in 1983, Chisolm taught politics and sociology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Her efforts inspired many to go on to pursue political careers against all odds and she continues to inspire today.