This week this country elects a new president. While for the first time a woman is the nominee for a major political party, Secretary Clinton was not the first woman to be listed on a ballot for a presidential election, and is one of five women vying for the office of president who appear on the ballot this year (Jill Stein, Green Party; Mindy Finn, Independent; Angela Nicole Walker, Socialist Party USA; and Hannah Walsh, United States Peace Party). California businesswoman Carly Fiorina sought the Republican nomination this election as well, but lost her bid during the primaries. In fact, dozens of women have run for president over the past 150 years, though they did not represent the two major political parties of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Until this year, these women ran in the name of secondary and tertiary political parties.
Victoria Woodhall was the first woman candidate for president listed on the official ballot of the majority of states in the election of 1872. As a suffragette, she ran under the banner of the Equal Rights Party. She was nominated by the National Woman Suffrage Association, which also named Frederick Douglass as her running mate for vice president. Ultimately she did receive a very minor percentage of votes, but gained no electoral votes. Technically, she was not Constitutionally able to run for the office — not because she was a woman (there was no law preventing that), but because she had not reached the age of 35. President Ulysses Grant won re-election that year.
Boomers have voted for female candidates for local, state and federal offices since the earliest boomers reached voting age — just not for president. Yet it is hard to imagine that the Nineteenth Amendment — giving women the right to vote — was only ratified in 1920, a short twenty-five years before the beginning of the Boomer Era. Since the voting age across the country was 21 at the time, the first presidential election in which boomer-aged men and women could legally vote was 1968. We all know how that turned out. Boomers had a war they wanted to stop on their minds, not female presidential candidates. With the battle cry of You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting from the song Eve of Destruction, boomers’ protests of the Vietnam War helped to change the voting age to 18.
Throughout the Boomer Years, women attempted to run for president. In 1952, three women tried: Ellen Linea W. Jensen for the Washington Peace Party; Mary Kennery for the American Party; and Agnes Waters for the American Woman’s Party. Each received zero percent of the national vote. In 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the then Republican Senator from Maine, ran for her party’s nomination, but ultimately lost out to Barry Goldwater. Since she had received 25 percent of the votes in the Illinois primary, her name was on the ballot at the national convention as the first woman nominated by a major party.
1972 saw two women attempt to run. Linda Jenness would appear on the ballot in 25 states under the Socialist Workers Party. Democrat Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. She served seven terms as a representative from the state of New York. In 1972, she sought the Democratic nomination for president as a champion of minority education and employment opportunities, and vocal opponent to the Draft. Her candidacy ran all the way to the Democratic National Convention that year, where she became the first African-American woman to have her name placed in nomination for the office of President of the United States.
Despite the plethora of women candidates on various party platforms throughout the decades for both president and vice president, it wasn’t until 1980 that Geraldine Ferraro became the first vice presidential nominee for a major political party. Running mate to Walter Mondale, the pair lost the election to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Mister Boomer does not recall the first female candidate he voted for; it may very well have been for a judicial or congressional position. The point is, Mister B didn’t think much about the gender of the candidates, and he believes many boomers thought like he did. After all, we wanted to change the world, rearrange the world as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had sung. Surely today’s candidates owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before them. Nonetheless, Mister B wonders how the female candidates of days past would have fared in today’s political and social environment. How would Victoria Woodhall, as an outspoken suffragette activist and three-time divorced woman, be treated by the press or in social media? There is one common thread that runs though these candidates that spans their 140+ years: each was willing to put everything on the line to oppose the white-male dominated political machine.
Viable female candidates for the highest office in the land is the ultimate prize so many boomers fought for through the age of Feminism. We can only hope that boomers will live long enough to see the day when the country lives up to its promise set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men — and women — are created equal…