Thank you shirley chisholm
February 25, 2021
How many times did we hear during the 2016 Presidential election that Hilary Clinton was the first woman to run for President? And there is no doubt, regardless of one’s political affiliation, Clinton put some serious cracks in that glass ceiling, but she was not the first. That honor goes to Shirley Chisholm.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1924 to working parents – her father a factory worker and her mother a seamstress. Her father came from Guyana and her mother from Barbados. She graduated from Brooklyn College cum laude in 1946 and said she had faced a “double handicap” because she was both Black and a woman.
Early in her career she taught nursery school, but after a divorce earned her Master’s degree from Columbia University in early childhood education. She became involved with local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the Urban League to advocate for racial and gender equality. She didn’t stop there. In 1964, she was elected to the New York State Legislature and then ran in 1968 for the U.S. Congress and won, becoming the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, where she remained an elected member until 1983.
During her time in Congress she introduced numerous bills, all written to advance racial and gender equality. In addition, she advocated for the poor and to end the Vietnam War. In 1977, she became the first Black woman (only the second woman) to chair the House Rules Committee.
In 1972, Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Unlike her white male counterparts, she was not allowed to participate in the primary debates. She took her battle to the courts, but still was only allowed to make one speech, so she took to the road, which later became known as the “Chisholm Trail” and entered 12 primaries.
Despite being underfunded and the discrimination she faced, she won 152 delegate votes, which represented 10% of the total. While she was ultimately unsuccessful, Chisholm laid the groundwork for the women who followed her, specifically Geraldine Ferraro, Carol Moseley Braun, Hilary Clinton, and Kamela Harris. We can’t dismiss her attempt to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling because she was not successful, neither were Ferraro, Moseley Braun or Clinton – in the long run, but all of these women, beginning with Chisholm made it possible for Kamela Harris to be the first women elected to the second highest office in the land.
I don’t remember reading about Shirley Chisholm in my high school U.S. History book. I was in college when Mondale chose Ferraro as his Vice President. It seemed impossible to me, at the time, that a woman could serve in either of those roles. Had I learned about the two Black women who came before Ferraro - Shirley Chisholm and Carol Moseley Braun – I might have had a different outlook. This brings me to today, how wonderful, thanks to women like Shirley Chisholm, that there are millions of little girls and young women, especially those of color, who can finally see themselves in our Vice President.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Department Head, Goodwin College
United States Senate