First but not the Last: Women Who Ran for President

Presented by National Women's History Museum

By National Women’s History Museum

National Women's History Museum

Handbill, "Twelve Reasons Why Women Should Vote" by National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., Inc.National Women’s History Museum

Entering the Race

In the 21st century, a little girl can say that she wants to grow up to be President of the United States. Even though no woman has yet ascended to the highest office, few would contradict the possibility of her achieving that goal. Aspiring to be president is symbolic of a country that believes in equality of opportunity and achievement. And that is why women have been running for president long before women were allowed to vote for the president. Each successive candidate has paved the way for the next, regardless of party or platform. Though these women were the first to announce, the first to campaign, the first to raise money, or the first to win a primary, they will not be the last. 

Victoria Woodhull Addresses the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives / Library of Congress (1871) by Leslie's Illustrated NewspaperNational Women’s History Museum

Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull cut a flamboyant figure in 19th-century America. Her varied career included stints as a spiritualist clairvoyant, the first female stockbroker on Wall Street, editor of a radical weekly paper, and professional speaker. She was the first woman to testify before Congress, where she made the argument that the 15th amendment enfranchised women as well as African American men.

"The Coming Woman" - New York Herald newspaper / Library of Congress (1870-04-02)National Women’s History Museum

The first woman to declare herself a presidential candidate, announced her run on April 2, 1870 by sending a notice to the New York Herald. It would be another fifty years before ratification of the 19th Amendment assured the ballot to American women.

Victoria Woodhull Attempts to Vote (1871-11-25)National Women’s History Museum

Woodhull represented the Equal Rights Party. Her platform included issues like an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, liberal divorce laws, and social welfare programs. Ironically, Woodhull's main disqualification for the presidency was not her gender but her age. Presidents must be 35 years of age and Woodhull would have been only 34.

Victoria Woodhull, caricature, Thomas Nast, illustrator, 1872-02-17, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Woodhull shocked society with more than her presidential ambitions. She espoused principles including women’s equality and liberation. She insisted that women be able to marry, have children, and divorce freely, without the interference of government. She called her philosophy free love and drew large crowds when she spoke.

Belva Lockwood / Library of Congress (1880/1890) by UnknownNational Women’s History Museum

Belva Ann Lockwood

Belva Lockwood part volunteered and was half drafted as the candidate for the National Women's Equal Rights Party in 1884. The party's female organizers believed that presenting a woman presidential candidate would draw attention to women's issues while encouraging women to become politically active. "It is quite time that we had our own party; our own platform, and our own nominees," adjured Lockwood. "We shall never have equal rights until we take them, nor respect until we command it." 

Now let the show go on! / Library of Congress (1884-09-17) by Frederick Burr Opper, 1857-1937, artistNational Women’s History Museum

While some lampooned her campaign, many took her seriously. She campaigned across the country, drawing large--paying--crowds.

Lockwood adroitly pointed out that there was nothing in the Constitution that prevented her from being elected. She was a natural born citizen, over the age of 35, and a resident of the United States. “I cannot vote,” she said, “but I can be voted for.”

Belva Lockwood Engraving, 1883, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Lockwood claimed to have received 4,711 votes in nine states, and declared her candidacy a resounding success. "After all," she said, "equality of rights and privileges is but simple justice." She ran again in 1888, though with less acclaim. She died in 1917 . . . three years before women won the right to vote in presidential elections.

By Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith represented the state of Maine in Congress for 34 years, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. She was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right. She was an independent thinker who refused to vote a party line but always kept her constituents’ interests in mind. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Smith sponsored the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, which granted women regular status in the armed forces, opening the military as a career path for women.

Margaret Chase Smith (1964) by Francis MillerLIFE Photo Collection

Smith declared her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in January 1964 saying, “I have few illusions and no money, but I'm staying for the finish." She noted, "When people keep telling you, you can't do a thing, you kind of like to try."

Margaret Chase Smith (1921) by Leonard MccombeLIFE Photo Collection

Smith was an accomplished grass roots campaigner whose personal touch was legendary in Maine. Though she applied the same principles to her national campaign, she lost every primary.

Party nomination celebrations (1964) by John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

With her 27 delegates at the 1964 Republican convention, she became the first woman nominated for president by a major party. She received 227,007 popular votes (3.84%). Barry Goldwater emerged as the party’s candidate, eventually losing to Lyndon B Johnson.

Congresswoman Patsy Mink (1964) by Ralph CraneLIFE Photo Collection

Patsy Takemoto Mink

In 1964, the Hawaiian Democrat became the first woman of color and first Asian American woman elected to Congress. Patsy Takemoto Mink championed women’s issues during her two stints in Congress, including passage of the Women’s Education Equity Act and co-sponsorship of Title IX.

Congresswoman Patsy Mink (1964) by Ralph CraneLIFE Photo Collection

Mink’s foray into presidential politics came in 1971 at the request of Oregon liberals who recruited her to run in their state’s primary. Her vocal opposition to the Vietnam War was intended to pressure front-runner George McGovern to make the war an issue in the platform. Mink received more than 5,000 votes in the Oregon primary as well as a few hundred in Maryland and Wisconsin. She did not actively seek the nomination at the 1972 Convention.

Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm / Library of Congress (1972-01-25) by Thomas J. O'HalloranNational Women’s History Museum

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress and a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus. Representing the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, Chisholm was known as "Fighting Shirley" for her passionate advocacy for her poor and minority constituents. She was the first African American person to run for a major party presidential nomination.

Shirley Chisholm Campaign Poster / Library of Congress, 1972, Original Source: Library of Congress
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Chisholm served in the New York State Legislature prior to her 1968 election to Congress. Her 1972 quest for the Democratic Presidential nomination was largely symbolic, undertaken to demonstrate the party’s failure to adequately represent the interests of women, African Americans, and the working class.

Shirley Chisholm Campaign Announcement, Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman and presidential candidate, 1972-01-25, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Shirley Chisholm: Declares Presidential Bid, January 25, 1972

New York Department of Records
YoutTube video

Democratic Convention, Bill Eppridge, 1972-07, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Chisholm appeared on the primary ballots in 12 states. She received 152 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention held in Miami, Florida, which ultimately selected George McGovern as the nominee. While never in real contention, her strategy of bringing a bloc of voters to the convention has influenced campaign strategies to the present.

Ellen McCormack Campaign Button (1976) by UnknownNational Women’s History Museum

Ellen McCormack

Ellen McCormack was a self-identified Long Island housewife who decided to run for President just three years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. "I'm in this to defend the unborn child," she told the New York Magazine in 1976. "I believe in the right to life of every being from the first moment of existence until the last moment of death." 

Ellen McCormack Electoral Map, National Women's History Museum, 2016-05-03, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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McCormack appeared on the primary ballot in eighteen states. While she did not win any primaries, her vote total of 238,027 was higher than that for several male Democratic candidates including Frank Church and Hubert Humphrey. She had 22 delegates at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Jimmy Carter.

Ellen McCormack for President,, 2016-05-02, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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McCormack's Pro-Life Action Committee focused on securing federal election matching funds to finance a series of hard-hitting commercials. "One hundred million TV viewers will see our pro-life message," proclaimed a fund-raising appeal." She was the first female candidate to receive matching funds.

Ellen McCormack - 1976 Campaign Commercial
Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics

Demonstration protesting anti-abortion candidate Ellen McCormack at the Democratic National Convention / Library of Congress (1976-07-14) by Warren K. Leffler, photographerNational Women’s History Museum

After the election, she led the formation of the Right to Life Party, where she worked for a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe v. Wade. McCormack ran again for President in 1980, appearing on the ballot in three states.

Founding mothers of Mormons for ERA / Special Collections Dept., J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah (1978-10) by Richard T. Johnson at K.V.N.U. Radio, Logan, Utah, photographerNational Women’s History Museum

Sonia Johnson

Sonia Johnson was a fifth-generation Mormon who became active in the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1977, Johnson co-founded Mormons for ERA. Her activism led to her excommunication from the LDS Church and influenced her decision to run for President.

President Carter Signing ERA Extension / U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (1978-10-20) by White House Staff PhotographerOriginal Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Passage of the ERA stalled after Indiana became the 35th state to ratify it in 1977. In 1979, Congress extended the ratification deadline to 1982. The passage of the second deadline with no more ratifications motivated Johnson’s 1984 presidential campaign. Nominated by two minor parties for President in 1984--the U.S. Citizens Party and the Peace and Freedom Party--she was the first third-party candidate to qualify for primary matching funds. She received 72,161 votes, or 0.08%.

Pat Schroeder, Congresswoman / Collection of the U.S. House of RepresentativesOriginal Source: U.S. House of Representatives

Patricia Schroeder

Patricia “Pat” Schroeder represented the Denver area in Congress for 24 years. First elected in 1972, the liberal Democrat ran on an anti-Vietnam War platform. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Schroeder sought to curb defense spending to reign in Cold War expenditures. Throughout her career she consistently advocated for women’s rights, supporting the ERA, cofounding the Congressional Women’s Caucus, and sponsoring the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

Colorado Democrat Senator Gary Hart / Nancy Wong (1984) by Nancy Wong, photographerOriginal Source: Wikimedia

Schroeder chaired Senator Gary Hart’s Democratic presidential campaign in 1987. The campaign fell apart after revelations of Hart’s extramarital affair emerged. Schroeder briefly entered the race, but withdrew after it became apparent that she lacked the resources to mount a serious challenge in the short window of time before the convention.

Patricia Schroeder for President,, 2016-05-11, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Schroeder’s withdrawal speech is best remembered for its intense emotion. Schroeder needed to secure delegates in addition to the popular vote. As a late entrant, building the delegate infrastructure proved prohibitively expensive.

"I could not figure out how to run," she said. "I could not find any way that we could really run the kind of campaign I wanted to run if we were targeting delegates and still trying to talk to people, which is what keeps me going as a human being. It's hard to do the grass roots thing and the delegate thing simultaneously. I want to find a way to break through that process, but at this moment I don't see it, today."

Campaign Button - Lenora Fulani (1988) by Unknown manufacturerNational Women’s History Museum

Lenora B. Fulani

Lenora Fulani ran for the presidency in 1988 and 1992 for the New Alliance Party. In 1988 Fulani became the first woman and first African American to appear on the ballot in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. She won 225,000 votes, or 0.2% of the November 1988 total. NAP encouraged political independence rather than party line support for either major party.“I think it’s important to recognize that when people keep voting and the same things happen, that turns them off to politics, to power, to anything. They want nothing to do with it.” 

Lenora Fulani for President,, 2016-05-02, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party
1992 Interview on the News Hour regarding her second presidential run.

Video source is :

Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Official U.S. Senate Photograph / U.S. Senate Historical Office (1993)Original Source: U.S. Congress

Carol Moseley-Braun

Carol Mosely-Braun was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, serving one term from 1992 to 1999. Braun, who had held local offices in Chicago, was motivated to run by the spectacle of the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas and the treatment of his accuser Anita Hill. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski standing with women senatorial candidates / Library of Congress (1992-07) by Laura Patterson, photographerNational Women’s History Museum

“The angrier I got at the way the Senate was carrying on, the more I became convinced that it absolutely needed a healthy dose of democracy," she observed. "It wasn’t enough to have millionaire white males over the age of 50 representing all the people in the country.”

Women senators seated around a coffee table / Library of Congress (1997-01) by Maureen Keating, photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Mosely-Braun lost her 1998 bid for re–election to the Senate to Republican Peter Fitzgerald, an Illinois state senator. She declared a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 and again in 2004. Lack of funds and traction in the polls had caused her to drop out of both races early.

Dole, Bob & Elizabeth (1999-11)LIFE Photo Collection

Elizabeth Hanford Dole

Elizabeth Hanford Dole came to Washington, DC in 1965 after graduating from Harvard’s Law School. She accepted a position in the department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Johnson administration. After Richard Nixon’s election, Dole changed her party affiliation and became executive director of the President’s Committee for Consumer Interests. She spent the next several decades in government and public service.

President Bush conducts a full Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room / National Archives and Records Administration (1989-09-05) by Susan Biddle, photographerOriginal Source: in cooperation with National Archives and Records Administration

Dole served in back-to-back Republican administrations. First as President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Transportation and then as George H.W. Bush's Secretary of Labor.

Letter, Clara Barton to Dr. Wayland (1882) by Clara BartonNational Women’s History Museum

Dole left the White House in 1991 to become the president of the American Red Cross. She was the first woman to hold that position since its founding by Clara Barton.

Dole, Bob & Elizabeth (1999-11-12) by Marion CurtisLIFE Photo Collection

Dole announced her own intention to run for the Republican nomination in 1999. She left the race after seven months, unable to match George W. Bush’s fundraising. Dole went on to successfully run for the North Carolina Senate seat vacated by Jesse Helms, where she served one term from 2003 to 2009.

Michele Bachmann / Gage Skidmore (2011-12-11) by Gage Skidmore, photographerOriginal Source: Flickr

Michele Bachmann

Republican Michele Bachmann represented Minnesota’s 6th congressional district from 2007 to 2014. Bachmann developed a reputation for conservative views on social issues and favoring limited government. She was a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and quickly rose to national prominence as a critic of the Obama administration.

Michele Bachmann, official Congress portrait / Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives by UnknownNational Women’s History Museum

Bachmann announced her intention in 2011 to capture the Republican presidential nomination. She briefly enjoyed front runner status after winning the Iowa Straw Poll in August 2011. By the time of the Iowa Caucus a few months later, she had dropped to sixth place. Bachmann left the race soon after. She was re-elected to a third Congressional term in 2012 and retired after completing her term in 2014.

Jill Stein / Gage Skidmore (2016-03-12) by Gage Skidmore, photographerOriginal Source: Flickr

Jill Stein

Jill Stein ran as the Green Party candidate for president in 2012  and reprised her run in 2016. Stein, a physician and environmental-health advocate, ran on a progressive platform. The major planks in her 2016 “Power to the People” platform included green energy by 2030, reform of the financial system, a path to citizenship for immigrants, guaranteed jobs, as well as universal payer health insurance and free higher education. Stein's 2016 campaign attracted disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters who identified her as a more progressive alternative to the Democratic nominee.

Jill Stein for President,, 2016-05-02, From the collection of: National Women’s History Museum
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Stein received 469,015 votes in the 2012 general election, placing her fourth among candidates. She received .36% of the votes cast.

Video - Green Party of the United States
Campaign Video

Carly Fiorina / Gage Skidmore (2012-01-12) by Gage Skidmore, photographerOriginal Source: Flickr

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina entered a crowded Republican primary race for the 2016 election. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO positioned herself as an experienced leader of a Fortune 50 company who could reform a broken economy. Her issues included smaller government, an end to crony capitalism, and upholding conservative principles. Her strong performances in the first two presidential primary debates marked her as a serious contender. 

Carly Fiorina Quotation (2016-05-02) by Carly Fiorina, presidential candidateOriginal Source: Facebook - Carly Fiorina, business person

Fiorina suspended her campaign in February 2016 after finishing seventh in the New Hampshire primary. She briefly affiliated with candidate Ted Cruz who he named her as his preferred Vice Presidential running mate in April 2016. He exited the race in May 2016.

Hillary Rodham Clinton at Brown & Black Presidential Forum / Gage Skidmore (2016-01-11) by Gage Skidmore, photographerOriginal Source: Flickr

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only former First Lady to hold public office, serve as a member of a presidential cabinet, or run for the presidential nomination. She became the first woman to serve as a major party's nominee for president after winning the 2016 Democratic nomination. She first ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, becoming the first woman to win a major party presidential primary. She captured 21 states before conceding to Barack Obama in June 2008. "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," she said in her concession speech. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time." 

President W. Clinton Inaugural Parade with Family / National Archives and Records Administration (1997-01-20)Original Source: National Archives and Records Administration

After graduating from Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham married Arkansas native Bill Clinton in 1975. While her husband entered Arkansas politics, she joined a private legal practice. He was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978, but she continued to work as an attorney while also serving on several boards and commissions. Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992 and Hillary Rodham Clinton became First Lady. Rodham Clinton was highly engaged in the administration's public policy efforts, the most publicly engaged First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hillary Rodham Clinton Official Portrait / U.S. Senate Historical Office by Photographer UnknownOriginal Source: History, Art & Archives - United States House of Representatives

Following Bill Clinton’s presidential term, Hillary Clinton campaigned for and won the open New York Senate seat in 2000. Clinton was re-elected in 2006. In 2007 she declared her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. She lost to Illinois Senator Barack Obama who went onto win the general election. Obama appointed Clinton Secretary of State, a position she held for his first term.

Hillary Clinton Campaign Rally / Gage Skidmore (2016-03-21) by Gage Skidmore, photographerOriginal Source: Flickr

On April 12, 2015, Clinton announced her second run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton secured the nomination at the July 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, becoming the first woman in history to represent a major party in a U.S. presidential election. Though she won the popular vote 48% to 47%, she lost the presidential race to her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, in the Electoral College.

Voting In Martha's Vineyard (1952-11) by Fritz GoroLIFE Photo Collection

Voting for the Future

Many women have run for president, and many more will. As each woman has gone a little bit further than the last in securing funding, campaign recognition, or primary votes, she has built a foundation for the next. Their strategic campaign initiatives--even when they knew that they would not win--highlighted issues of importance. They changed politics. They changed the relationship of government to the people, demanding that government be more responsive and inclusive. Someday a woman will be elected, and though she will be the first, she will not be the last. 

Credits: Story

National Women's History Museum

Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program

Ashley Callaway
Image Research and Curatorial Intern

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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