What Every Woman Should Know About Women Who Ran For President

When people keep telling you that you can’t do a thing, you kind of like to try it. ~Margaret Chase Smith

Last week we celebrated 89 years of electoral franchise for women. What that means is that women have been allowed to vote for only 89 years in our country’s 233 year history. It was the first right that women won for themselves, and many victories would follow. Life for women today is admittedly nothing like it used to be, and a certain amount of equality is enjoyed between the sexes. Of course there are still issues of equal rights for women to be resolved, thus the very existence of The New Agenda. Two of those issues include the holding of highest and second-highest offices in the land, which so far have only been held by men. To date, only 34 women have actually headed up the national ticket for President for their parties, and 87 have run for vice president on the ticket.

1848 Lucretia Mott
The first women to run for a national executive office in the Unites States of America was Lucretia Mott. Readers may recall her from the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848, which she staged with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, officially kicking off American women’s long struggle for equal rights. That same year Mott ran for the vice presidential ticket in the Liberty Party, which was a break-away abolitionist party that was short-lived during the 1840s. She garnered 4 of the 84 votes at the party’s national convention that year.

1872 Virginia Woodhull
The first woman to run for president did not wait for a man to ask her if she wanted to, or for a Party of men to elect her. Victoria Woodhull, in typical fashion, took permission for herself, formally declaring her candidacy in 1871. In 1972, the Equal Rights Party elected her as their candidate. There were some issues with her campaign, however, including a Vice Presidential candidate (Frederick Douglass) who refused to recognize his nomination, and the fact that Ms. Woodhull was not yet 35 years of age as required by the constitution. The government declined to even recognize her, and she and her party were left off the ballot that year.

1884 & 1888 Belva Ann Lockwood
Belva Lockwood was a force to be reckoned with in her life. She constantly and consistently fought the forces of oppression and won some remarkable concessions from the system. She was one of America’s first female lawyers, and the first female lawyer to speak before the Supreme Court. Before that she sought to equalize pay in education, which even then was subject to inequality along gender lines. She ran on the National Equality Party’s platform for two consecutive elections, and though she lost, she was the first woman whose name appeared on the ballot for the office of president. Her running mate in the campaign was Marietta Stowe.

1940 Gracie Allen
Americans would wait another 52 years for the next woman to run for president, and by then it would be a joke—literally. Gracie Allen, notable comedienne, and her husband George Burns, toured the country to raise awareness for the joke campaign, organized under the “Surprise Party.” Allen and George made jokes about politics, unfortunately often at women’s expense, on their “Whistlestop Tour.” Though this campaign can technically be considered a publicity tour for a comic act, Gracie Allen actually registered and ran and she garnered 42,000 votes, proving that people approved, no matter how funny and ridiculous she and Burns thought it was.

1964 Margaret Chase Smith
Margaret Chase Smith never ran for president on her party’s ticket, but her name is important in this area because she was the first women to run—and be rejected—by a major party, in her case the Republican Party. Remember that it had been 76 years since a serious campaign for president had been waged by a woman. She did face considerable sexism during her campaign, most notably because of her age, but she stuck it out to the bitter end. During a contentious Republican National Convention she was nominated for president and received 27 delegate votes.

1968 Charlene Mitchell
Charlene Mitchell was the first African American woman to run for president, and she ran on the Communist Party ticket with a 23 year old male candidate who was technically too young to serve. They appeared on the ballot in only two states, however. As a result, she garnered only 1,027 votes that year.

1972 Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to run on a major party’s national ticket. She, like Smith, was not ultimately chosen by her party, but her run was historic nevertheless. Running under the banner of “Unbought and Unbossed,” she originally garnered 157 votes during the first round of voting at the 1972 National Democratic Convention. During that Convention, as documented in Rick Perlstein’s book Nixonland, women were exploited and formally thrown under the bus by the Democratic party. Chisholm herself was no exception; Humbert Humphrey, in his challenge to best McGovern, released only his black delegates to Chisholm during the first round of voting in an effort to make it a three-way race between two white men and a black woman, which he thought would clear the field and increase his chances.

1984 Geraldine Ferraro
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was selected by Walter Mondale to be his Vice Presidential running mate, a first for a major party. Until 2008, it would be the last time a woman would appear on a major party national ticket for executive office.

As we all know, in 2008 Hillary Clinton put 18 million cracks in that glass ceiling, and Palin added 57 million more. And, as we can clearly see from President Obama’s election, there are tangible benefits when a glass ceiling is broken. Not only does it serve to inspire generations of people who look like the president to reach as high, it influences how that group is perceived in the mainstream media and in other areas, such as leadership, with issues relevant to the group, and representations in advertising. We can achieve that for ourselves, but we will have to take a cue from this last election and get on board with unity for women.

Additional Resources:

Wiki’s exhaustive list of all female executive candidates in our history.

A shorter list from Jo Freeman.


One comment on “What Every Woman Should Know About Women Who Ran For President

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