I strongly believe that this year’s election will leave a mark in the history books as a David-and-Goliath type story regarding the strength and power of women after years of adversity. While there are 12 candidates for president on the ballot, focus remains on the story of the hardworking and passionate Hilary Clinton fighting and clawing her way through battle with the looming, villainous Donald Trump, who threatens the core beliefs and strong base of the country many have worked hard to build, (just in case my opinions about the election weren’t clear…) We are watching history unfold in its most primal form: good versus evil.
As I have said before, I do not agree with everything Hilary Clinton has done or said, but she has done far more good for our country than most people in government. I can’t believe I’m allowed to vote for a woman to be president — I’m sure there are many people out there who thought this day would never come. Hilary Clinton is a prime example of what strength, integrity and passion can do in the hands of a woman. And she’s not the only one. In honor of this historic election, I have chosen to focus on a few other magnificent female politicians who faced discrimination and misogyny in their fight to have their voices heard and to make the country better for all.
1. Victoria Woodhull
You may have heard or read about Victoria Woodhull recently, as many contemporary news and content sources have chosen to revive her story in the wake of Hilary Clinton’s nomination and campaign. Woodhull was the first woman to run for President of The United States. Woodhull grew up in the late 1800s Ohio under an abusive father who often whipped her and may have sexually abused her. She sought refuge in spiritualism, which is also believed to have had a part in her stance on Free Love, which meant she supported women having the freedom to marry, divorce and bear children without government interference of any kind. Woodhull was also a rigorous activist for labor reform and became a leader for the American women’s suffrage movement. In May 1872, Woodhull was nominated for president by the Equal Rights Party, with abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass nominated for vice president. However, she was soon attacked for her various political platforms, most heavily for her stance on Free Love. But her campaign was soon demolished after she published a story in her and her sister’s newspaper detailing an affair of a prominent minister in New York. The story was designed to point out double-standards that existed between men and women on the subject of infidelity. She was arrested for “publishing an obscene newspaper” just a few days before the election, and although she was acquitted the coverage of the trial destroyed her chances of election.
Woodhull was set an unconventional pathway to politics for future women and teaches us of the injustices committed by against women simply because of their gender. Despite continued harassment, she went on to lecture about Free Love and women’s rights including abortion, among other issues.
2. Jeannette Rankin
Jeanette Rankin grew up knowing the value of hard work. Rankin, who helped take care of her siblings and worked to help maintain her family’s farm, said that men and women were equal in working this way and felt that it should be the same across all aspects of life. In 1916, Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Like Woodhull, Rankin was extremely active and vocal in the American women’s suffrage movement and advocated for pacifism through the validity and use of the female voice. “The peace problem is a woman’s problem,” she said during a disarmament conference.
She worked tirelessly for the suffrage movement as well as for labor reform after the Speculator Mine disaster left over 150 miners dead in her home state of Montana. She is most notably remembered for voting against the declaration of war on Japan in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Standing strong on her pacifist beliefs, she said, “If you’re against war, you’re against war regardless of what happens. It’s a wrong method of trying to settle a dispute.” Rankin was vilified by her fellow House Representatives, as well as her own state for this action, and faced an onslaught of angry phone calls and telegrams condemning her for her vote. She decided not to run for reelection. Rankin returned to her social-work roots and found a renewed sense of purpose with the emergence of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. She found a new generation of pacifists and feminists who also believed in equality and embraced her for her work. Although she considered trying for a third term, her health kept her from pursuing the election.
Rankin is one of those historical figures that we need to remember and hold up as a person of integrity — one who knows what she believes in and will not bow to the pressures of her colleagues, or a nation, simply for approval. Her integrity and grace in the face of unabashed human disgust is something our politicians today desperately need to learn.
3. Shirley Chisholm
I’m pretty ashamed that I had not heard about Woodhull, Rankin and Shirley Chisholm until researching this blog post. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, and later became the first black candidate for a major party’s presidential nomination. Chisholm was born in New York but spent most of her life living with her grandmother and siblings in Barbados. There she attended a “traditional, British-style school” that “took education seriously.” She later credited her time in Barbados for her intellectual abilities and her high level of education and knowledge. She became an educator at a child care center and became an authority on child welfare, which served as a large part of her later platform that focused on the education and welfare of low-income families.
In 1972, Chisholm was elected as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Her campaign was disorganized and underfunded and she struggled to be taken seriously by men, both members of the party and rival candidates. “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black,” she said. She received many threats against her life throughout the course of the campaign and was eventually given U.S. Secret Service protection. The campaign ended with Chisholm in fourth place behind George McGovern. She said se ran for office “in spite of hopeless odds … to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.” Chisholm continued her work in Congress by supporting legislation to enact a minimum wage, improve opportunities for inner-city residents and to decrease military spending in favor of increasing spending on education, health care and other social services.
Like Woodhull and Rankin, Chisholm faced extreme adversity because she was a woman who was challenging their long-held, conservative and misogynistic beliefs about who can do what in politics.
4. Elizabeth Warren
First off, I have to say that I love Elizabeth Warren. She is outspoken and frank and does not shy away from difficult problems or difficult people, in the interest of bring them to justice and making things right. Warren is first and foremost an academic. She was formerly a professor of law at several schools and specialized bankruptcy and commercial law, which undoubtedly lead to her advocacy for consumer protection.
She was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts when she defeated incumbent Scott Brown with 53.7 percent of the votes. She was one of 20 female senators in office in 2012, which was the largest female U.S. Senate delegation in history. She has been a strong-willed candidate in support of several key democratic platforms including increasing taxes on the wealthy. She has also been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, calling out his misogynistic, homophobic and racist tendencies in her work to support Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Yet again, here we have a woman who has shown incredible strength and integrity in the face of adversity, and she has not let it defeat her or keep her from accomplishing her goals.
5. Michelle Obama
And, last but not least, we have to mention the First Lady. Michelle Obama is married to the 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Obama. After graduating from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she worked at a law firm for several years before going to work as the Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago. During her years as the First Lady, Obama has always been extremely active, using her position as a means to effect even more change for the better, while also working to support her husband’s policies. Among several other causes, she began the Let’s Move! campaign to get kids to eat healthier and lead an active lifestyle to combat the widespread problem of childhood obesity in America.
She has also been extremely vocal about women and LGBT rights, hosting several events designed to bring proponents of these causes together to continue conversations about progress toward full equality. To me, like so many others across the nation, Michelle Obama symbolizes how far we’ve come, how much we’ve achieved, and how grateful we should be that we live in a country that has progressed and expanded in its thinking. While that doesn’t mean there’s still more work to do, she seems to embody the thinking that I believe we often forget, especially with the state of the current election: America is a wonderful, diverse space full of opportunities for all of its people. While we should all keep working to make it better, it is still pretty great as it is. She is graceful and dignified and intelligent and compassionate. We couldn’t have asked for a better First Lady.
What female politicians do you look up to? How do you think the country would be shaped differently by a female president? Why is it important to have women in politics? Let’s talk.