When it comes to women in politics, there are a lot of firsts to be recognized and more to be achieved. Apart from royalty, historically, few women have had a seat at the political table. Since the United States does not have a royal family, women were pretty much relegated to the background.
According to historians, John Adams valued the opinions of his wife, Abigail and often sought her counsel, but customarily the role of First Lady was limited until the FDR presidency..
Members of the women’s suffrage movement were active in helping abolish slavery. In 1863, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony gathered 400,000 signatures on a petition to bring about the immediate passage of the 13th Amendment to end slavery. When the 15th Amendment eliminated restriction of the vote due to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” but did not include gender, it was a bitter disappointment to the Women’s Suffrage Movement. As part of the backlash, Black suffragists were forced to walk behind their fellow White suffragists in Women’s marches exposing a component of racism which has tarnished the movement.
Between 1878 and 1919, a new suffrage bill was introduced every year and the organization turned its efforts toward state voting rights. In 1890, Wyoming entered the United States as a suffrage state allowing women the right to vote in state elections.
Until the 1910’s women did not have the right to vote in most local or state elections. Women weren’t allowed to vote in national elections in the United States until passage of the 19th Amendment which was adopted on August 18, 1920.
In honor of Women’s History Month, This Awful Awesome Life would like to recognize the following women for their political firsts:
Julia Addington was the first woman elected to public office in Iowa and probably the first woman in the U.S. to be voted into public office. In 1869 she became the superintendent of schools after tying her male opponent and winning the tiebreaker by a coin toss.
Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for the U.S. presidency in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party. Frederick Douglass was listed as her running mate (he might not have actually known he was even nominated). Woodhull was only 34 at the time. Had she won, she would have been ineligible to serve because of the constitutional eligibility requirement stating all candidates must be at least 35 years old to run for president of the United States.
Cora Reynolds Anderson was the first woman and the first Native American woman (Chippewa/Ojibwe) to be elected to Michigan’s House of Representatives in 1924.
Edith Nourse Rogers was an American social welfare volunteer and politician. She was the sixth woman elected to the U.S. Congress and the first woman elected to congress from Massachusetts (1925). A strong advocate for veterans, she helped draft and co-sponsored the G.I. Bill (The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act) which provided for educational and vocational training, low-interest loans for homes, farms, and businesses, and limited unemployment benefits for returning servicemen.
Frances Perkins was an American sociologist and worker’s rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945. She was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet (appointed by FDR). She served in that position longer than any other appointee. She was largely responsible for the U.S. adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws relating to child labor and the adoption of the federal minimum wage.
Eleanor Roosevelt redefined the role of the First Lady of the United States by making public appearances on her husband’s behalf. She held regular press conferences, wrote a daily newspaper column and a monthly magazine column, hosted a weekly radio show and spoke at a national party convention. She was outspoken about the rights of women and civil rights for African Americans and Asian Americans. She also publicly disagreed with some of FDR’s policies. She pressed the U.S. to support the United Nations and became its first delegate.
Gracie Allen was an American comedian married to fellow comedian George Burns. Known for their publicity stunts, in 1940 the Burns/Allen comedy team announces Gracie Allen’s candidacy for the U.S. Presidency as a candidate of the Surprise Party in 1940. Burns and Allen did a cross-country whistle stop campaign tour on a private train while performing their radio show live in different cities. Though seen as funny at the time, Allen’s catch phrases reinforced stereotypes about women’s limited abilities to grasp complex political matters or handle money responsibly.
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress serving seven terms from 1969-1983. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Chisholm was posthumously awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Linda Jenness was the Socialist’s Party candidate for president of the United States in 1972. At the time, she was only 31 years old and was not allowed on the ballot because she did not meet the Constitutional eligibility requirement of being 35 to run for president of the United States. Jenness received 37,423 votes despite her ineligibility to actually serve as president if elected. She shared the nomination with Evelyn Reed who appeared on the ballot in Indiana, New York and Wisconsin. Reed was 67 at the time.
Sandra Day O’Connor – first woman SCOTUS nominated in 1981 by Ronald Reagan received unanimous senate approval. She served 24 years before retiring in 2006.
Geraldine Ferraro was elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. She was a strong supporter of equity for women in areas of wages, pensions and retirement plans. In 1984, she was selected as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate of Walter Mondale making her the first woman and the first Italian American to be a major-party nominee. Dogged during the campaign over questions about her husband’s business finances and her Congressional disclosure statements, she and Mondale lost the election. Ferraro also served as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights from 1993-1996.
Ruth Badger Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993.
Carol Moseley Braun was a U.S. Senator 1993-1999 Illinois She was the first female African –American U.S. Senator from the state of Illinois and the only woman to serve as senator for Illinois until the election of Tammy Duckworth who took office in January 2017. Moseley Braun was a candidate for the Democratic nomination during the 2004 US Presidential election.
Janet Reno is the first woman to be appointed U.S. Attorney General (1993-2001) - appointed by President Bill Clinton.
Madeline Albright was the first woman to be Secretary of State, the highest ranking office ever held by a woman until Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House from 2007-2011. Albright served from 1997-2001 during the Clinton Administration.
Tammy Baldwin 1st openly gay person elected a US Senator and first woman senator from Wisconsin ((assumed office January 2017) She represented Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999-2013.
Condoleezza Rice was the first female African American Secretary of State (second woman after Madeline Albright and second African American after Colin Powell) appointed by George W. Bush – she served as his National Security Advisor during his first term – she was the first woman to serve as a National Security Advisor.
Sonia Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Barack Obama. She assumed office August 6, 2009. She is the first justice of Hispanic descent and she is the first Latina.
Elena Kagan became the first female Solicitor General of the United States in 2009. She was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama to and took the oath of office on August 7, 2010 becoming the fourth woman to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sarah Palin was the first Republican woman selected as a vice presidential candidate. She was on the 2008 ticket as John McCain’s running mate. They lost to democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Nancy Pelosi is the current Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives (since 2011). She was the 52nd House Speaker from 2007-2011, the only women ever to serve in that capacity. As Speaker, she attained the highest rank of any female politician in American history.
Jill Stein is an American physician, activist and politician She was selected the Green Party candidate for the U.S. Presidency in 2012 and 2016.
Hilary Clinton was the First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 – 1981 and from 1983-1992. She was the First Lady of the United States from 1993-2001 and was elected to the US Senate from New York serving from 2001-2009. Clinton lost the 2008 democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama who won the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. She served as Secretary of State in the Obama administration from 2009-2013. Clinton won the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in the 2016 election. She won the popular vote for president, but lost in the electoral college.
Tammy Duckworth is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel (U.S. Army helicopter pilot) and Iraq War veteran. She has been the US Senator for Illinois since 2017, and she will become the first sitting U.S.Senator to give birth later this year. Duckworth suffered severe combat injuries losing both of her legs and injuring her right arm during the Iraq War. She received a medical waiver and continued to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard until her retirement in 2014. In 2012 she became the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first member of Congress to be born in Thailand.
Sarah Palin Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Sarah_Palin_by_Gage_Skidmore_2.jpg
Jill Stein photo: By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47492926