Unbought and Unbossed: Shirley Chisholm and the 1972 Presidential Run

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.

This item is a photograph of President William J. Clinton greeting Shirley Chisholm, Ambassador-Designate to Jamaica, in the Oval Office of the White House. The image was photographed by Robert McNeely. [NAID 2842929]

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.

A0294-10A 600dpi scan from Negative
This photograph depicts President Gerald R. Ford seated at the Cabinet Room table signing a proclamation on Women’s Equality Day 1974. Standing behind him are Representatives Yvonne Brathwait Burke (D-California), Barbara Jordan (D-Texas), Elizabeth Holtzman (D-New York), Marjorie S. Holt (R-Maryland), Leonor K. Sullivan (D-Missouri), Cardiss Collins (D -Illinois), Corinne C. Boggs (D-Louisiana), Margaret M. Heckler (R-Massachusetts), Bella S. Abzug (D-New York), and Shirley Chisholm (D-New York). [NAID 12082600]

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.”

President Nixon meets with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Cabinet Room (NAID 7822054)
President Nixon meets with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Cabinet Room (NAID 7822054)

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.



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