Aiming High: Women Pursuing the Presidency

Center for American Women and Politics

Many women have sought to become President of the United States. A number received national attention, either as pioneers in the electoral process, as potential candidates, or as candidates of minor parties with a significant national presence.

Women Diving into Politics
Starting in the late 1800s, a very small group of women were challenging the status quo by asserting their right to run for President at the same time that women were struggling to secure the right to vote. Women finally gained the right to vote in 1920, although the nation has yet to elect a woman president.  
Victoria Woodhull (1872)
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull, a stockbroker, publisher, and protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt, ran for president of the United States on the Equal Rights Party ticket. At the time, she was only thirty-three years old, too young to meet the constitutionally-mandated age requirement of thirty-five for the presidency.

A political cartoon shows a woman, carrying two children and a man holding a bottle of rum on her back, speaking to a winged woman with a sign reading, "Be saved by free love" representing suffragist Victoria Woodhull.

Belva Lockwood (1884 and 1888)
Belva Lockwood, the first woman admitted to practice law before the U.S Supreme Court, ran for president on the Equal Rights Party Ticket in 1884 and again in 1888. Unlike Woodhull, Lockwood ran a full campaign for the presidency, although she did not expect to win. This portrait was taken some time between 1865 and 1880.

Illustration shows a woman labeled "Mrs. Lockwood" holding papers that state "Nomination for Pres. Womens' Rights Party," bursting through an opening in the floor of a stage to appear next to a clown labeled "B.B." who is holding a paddle labeled "Demagogism" and a string of sausages labeled "His Own Nomination, Womens' Suffrage Nomination, Tewksbury Pauper Nomination, Convict Party Nomination, Greenback Nomination, [and] Last Nomination".

How High Will She Go?
This cartoon by John T. McCutcheon was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 29, 1922. The first woman, Jeanette Rankin, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1917. In 1922 there were three women in the House (one elected and two appointed to fill the seats of their deceased husbands). Women had received the right to vote two years earlier, in 1920.

Lena Springs (1924)

Springs, a suffragist from South Carolina, chaired the credentials committee at the Democratic National Convention and received several votes for the vice presidential nomination. While she did not become her party's nominee, she was the first woman whose name was placed in nomination for the VP slot at a major party convention.

Margaret Chase Smith (1964)
US Senator Smith (R-ME) was nominated for the presidency by Vermont Sen. George Aiken at the Republican national convention, becoming the first woman whose name was placed in nomination for the presidency at a major party's convention. Smith had established a record as a brave and independent lawmaker, the first to publicly denounce Sen. Joseph McCarthy from the Senate floor for his attacks on people he labeled as Communists. 

This video includes clips of her speech before the Women's National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 1964, courtesy of Northeast Historic Film John J. White, Sr./ WGAN Collection.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 (to replace her dying husband) and the Senate in 1948, Smith had already made history by becoming the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress.

Former U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in July 1964. (Smith Library)

Shirley Chisholm (1972)
In 1972, Congresswoman Chisholm ran for president in the Democratic primaries. She won one primary -- a  "beauty contest" in New Jersey not tied to delegate selection, in which the leading candidates did not participate. At the party's national convention, she garnered 151.25 delegate votes before Senator George McGovern clinched the nomination. At the same convention, Frances (Sissy) Farenthold, a former Texas state legislator who twice ran for governor of that state, finished second in the balloting for the vice presidential nomination, receiving more than 400 votes.

Chisholm was the first Black woman to seek a major party’s nomination for U.S. President. She campaigned throughout the country and was on the ballot in twelve primaries. Chisholm had already made history as the first Black woman from Brooklyn to be elected to the New York state legislature and the first Black woman elected to Congress.

Winner of the 2006 Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, "Chisholm ‘72" chronicles Shirley Chisholm’s run for the president and the ripple effects her candidacy had on American culture.

Patsy Mink (1971)
At the request of Oregon liberals, Congresswoman Mink (D-HI) agreed to have her name appear on the Oregon presidential ballot to provide a platform to discuss opposition to the Vietnam War, force Democratic front-runner George McGovern to resume his antiwar focus, and hold the state’s liberal votes together until its delegates reached the convention. 

Mink received more than five thousand votes in the Oregon primary on May 23 and smaller numbers in Maryland and Wisconsin, where selecting officials placed her name on the ballot. She made no effort to have her name placed into nomination at the Democratic National Convention.

Ellen McCormack (1976)
McCormack entered 20 state primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination as an anti-abortion candidate, winning 22 convention votes. She became the first woman to qualify for federal campaign matching funds and also qualified for Secret Service protection. In 1980, she ran for president again as the candidate of the Right to Life Party, winning more than 30,000 votes from three states.
Geraldine Ferraro (1984)
Third-term Congresswoman Ferraro (D-NY) became the first woman ever to run on a major party's national ticket when she was selected by Walter F. Mondale as his vice presidential running mate. The ticket was decisively defeated, capturing only 13 electoral votes, and few analysts felt that Ferraro's presence had a strong impact – positive or negative – on the outcome.

Ferraro gave her acceptance speech on the last night of the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, CA.

Sonia Johnson (1984)

Johnson ran on the ticket of the Citizens Party, receiving federal matching funds and winning more than 70,000 votes. She had gained fame as an activist promoting the Equal Rights Amendment and opposing policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of which she was a member until her excommunication.

Patricia Schroeder (1988)
Congresswoman Schroeder (D-CO) made headlines when she took preliminary steps toward making a serious run for the presidency, but she dropped out before the primaries, unable to raise the necessary funds.
Lenora Fulani (1988 and 1992)
In 1988 and again in 1992, Fulani ran for president as a member of the New Alliance Party. She received sufficient support to qualify for federal matching funds.
"Someday a Woman will be President!"
In 1995, controversy erupted when Wal-mart pulled a T-shirt featuring Margaret, a character from the popular Dennis the Menace comic, proclaiming "Someday a woman will be president!" from its shelves after a few customers complained the shirts were against family values. The chain later added them back, stating "Loud and clear, our customers told us it was a mistake to remove them." 
Elizabeth Dole (1999)
In January 1999, Dole resigned her position as president of the American Red Cross, which she had held since 1991, to consider a run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency. 

Dole dropped out of the Republican race in October 1999. In her withdrawal speech, she said a lack of money doomed her candidacy. In 2002, she was elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.

Carol Moseley Braun (2004)
Braun, a former U.S. Senator (D-IL) and Ambassador to New Zealand under President Bill Clinton, was among ten Democrats who sought the presidential nomination in 2004.

Braun discusses her career, including her run for the presidency.

Hillary Clinton (2008)
Hillary Rodham Clinton – US Senator (D-NY) and former first lady – became the first woman to win a major party's presidential primary in any state for the purposes of delegate selection when she won the primary in New Hampshire on January 8, 2008. (In 1972, Shirley Chisholm had won a "beauty contest" primary in New Jersey that was not tied to delegate selection.) Clinton also became the first woman to be a presidential candidate in every primary and caucus in every state.

During a final campaign rally at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, Clinton spoke to her supporters about the race and gender barriers she and Senator Obama broke during their campaigns.

Sarah Palin (2008)
In 2008, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), selected by US Senator John McCain as his vice presidential running mate, became the first woman on a national GOP ticket.
Women Candidates and Sexism
Women candidates often face a different type of scrutiny than male candidates, as illustrated by Ann Telnaes in this cartoon published in the Washington Post during the 2016 election. (Scroll to view full cartoon.) 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Women's Media Center and Media Matters launched "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It," a video and online petition effort illustrating the pervasive nature of sexism in the media's coverage of women candidates.

Michele Bachmann (2012)
US Rep. Bachmann (R-MN) was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012. 

Bachmann won the Ames (Iowa) straw poll in August 2011, but withdrew from the race after a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses.

Carly Fiorina (2016)
In May 2015, Fiorina announced her candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the only woman among the GOP candidates.

Fiorina suspended her campaign in February 2016 due to disappointing early primary results. In April 2016, Ted Cruz named her as his vice presidential running mate, but he suspended his campaign a week later.

Hillary Clinton (2016)
On April 12, 2015, Clinton announced her second bid for the presidency. 

Prior to Clinton in 2008 and Fiorina in 2016, just 5 women had competed in major party primaries for the presidency.

In 2016, Secretary Clinton became the first woman in history to win the Iowa caucuses. In 33 states or territories, she is the first (and so far the only) woman to win presidential primaries (23 in 2008 and 10 as of April 2016).

On June 7, 2016, Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency - the first woman to ever top a major party's ballot for the nation's highest office.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Special thanks to:

Chicago History Museum
Kathy Kleeman
Library of Congress
Margaret Chase Smith Library
Gilda Morales
National Women's History Museum
New York City Department of Records
REALSide Productions
Ken Rudin, host of Ken Rudin's Political Junkie radio program
Ann Telnaes
Washington Post
Women in Leadership: South Carolina Women's Leadership Network
Women's Media Center

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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