For many of us, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy for the Presidency was profoundly bittersweet. She was the first woman to win the nomination of a major political party, and she seemed destined to become the first female President. As we all know, that historic achievement was left painfully unfulfilled.
As the field of candidates for 2020 begins to take shape, we are witnessing a different sort of historical moment: for the first time, there are several highly qualified women competing for the nomination. As of this writing, four senators—Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren—have declared that they will seek the Presidency in 2020. Each of these women has distinguished themselves in the Senate and their careers at large, and each will be a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. This marks an enormous step forward, by which women can move beyond the novelty of running as a woman, and can instead center their campaigns on the policies and ideas that distinguish them as candidates.
The history of women running for the highest office in the land does not begin in 2016, however; it stretches all the way back to 1872, thanks to a woman named Victoria Woodhull. Woodhull was a women’s suffrage and “free love” activist, advocating for women’s ability to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference. She was nominated by the short-lived Equal Rights Party to run for President in 1872. Though Woodhull didn’t receive any electoral votes, her candidacy served to bring women’s suffrage and equal rights into the mainstream.
It wouldn’t be until almost a century later, in 1964, that another woman—a Republican, no less—entered the conversation. Margaret Chase Smith, a distinguished congresswoman who served in both the house and the Senate, was the first woman to be considered at a major party’s convention. Shortly thereafter, Shirley Chisholm was the first black candidate for the office, and the first woman to vie for the Democratic nomination in 1972. Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were on the ballot as vice presidential candidates in 1984 and 2008, respectively. Women were inching ever-closer to the Presidency, culminating in Hillary Clinton clinching the democratic nomination in 2016. The only obstacle left was to break the final glass ceiling.
Clinton’s loss in 2016 was crushing, made all the worse by Donald Trump’s flagrant disregard for women and particularly women in power. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to neglect the enormous progress that has been made since Victoria Woodhull sought the Presidency in 1872. Generations of women have fought to bring us to this historical moment, and the current array of eminently qualified women vying for the presidency in 2020 is nothing short of inspiring.
Carmen Schaye ©
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