Women’s Day – Election, 2016

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-4-08-46-pmBoth of the editorials in The Seattle Times today are about women, not surprising given that today is historic. For the first time since this country was founded we are voting in an election where a woman is a major contender for the Presidency.

Hillary Clinton is not the First Woman to run for President,but she is the First Woman to represent one of the major political parties. Translation: This is the first time a woman has the possibility of gaining the Presidency. So, it’s not surprising that one of the editorials in today’s paper was about her. The evidence of how far women have come, after slogging through centuries of battles, is apparent.

But, the evidence is also there for how much work remains, right there in the second editorial about how Harvard University cancelled the season for their men’s soccer team after the team produced “scouting reports” on the women’s soccer team, ranking them by appearance and ideal sexual position.

It is important that we not become complacent because a woman has the opportunity to reach the top of the government. After all, only 20% of the Senate seats are filled with women and a slightly smaller percentage in the House of Representatives—and men still rank women by their appearance and not their skill. We must remain vigilant if women are to be assured that their views and opinions are considered, that they can affect how this country treats its citizens and one another.

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Today’s paper also carried an obituary for Janet Reno. The article points out that she was the First Woman Attorney General in the United States, appointed by Hillary Clinton’s husband. It recounts her achievements and her mistakes. What it does not mention is her terrific sense of humor. She was an amazing woman, full of strength and an ability to laugh. I wish I could have met her.

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Hillary Clinton Owes a Debt to the Women who Went before Her

HILLARY FOR HILLARY       Hillary Clinton is the First Woman ever nominated by a major political party to run for President of the United States. She has established her credentials, campaigned vigorously, and won the title. She is not, however, the first woman to run for President and there are many women who paved the way before her. It is time to take a moment and give those women credit.

The First Woman to declare she would run for President, in the April 2, 1870 issue of the New York Herald, was Victoria Claflin Woodhull who ran for a place on the Equal Rights Party ticket. This was particularly surprising because women did not earn the right to vote until August 18, 1920. It turns out Woodhull was not qualified to run for President, not because of her gender, but because of her age. She was only 34 years old, one year younger than mandated by the constitution.

Less than a decade later Belva Lockwood ran for President with the National Women’s Equal Rights Party. “I cannot vote,” she said, “but I can be voted for.” She received 4,711 votes in nine states.

Many of the women who ran for President or Vice-President were nominated by minority parties (e.g., the National Equal Rights Party, the Peace Party, and the Communist Party). Blocked from power by the national parties, they followed their own paths. Even this year Jill Stein is running for President on the Green Party ticket. The Republican National Convention in 1900 was the first time a woman, Frances Warren of Wyoming, even served as a delegate for a major party.

After the nineteenth amendment, there were some changes, but at a pace suited to a snail. In 1924, Lena Springs, after chairing the credentials committee for the Democratic National Convention, received some votes for the position of U.S. Vice-President. That same year Suffragette Marie Caroline Brehm was the first legally qualified female candidate to run for the vice-presidency of the United States, on the Prohibition Party ticket with Herman P. Faris.

As women asserted themselves more into the political process, there were a number of courageous women who ran for President. Among them were:

–Margaret Chase Smith (1964) – She received votes from only 27 delegates at the 1964 Republican convention, but was the First Woman nominated for President by a major party.

–Shirley Chisholm (1972) – The First African American Woman elected to Congress was also the First African American Woman to run for a major party presidential nomination. She appeared on primary ballots in 12 states.

–Ellen McCormack (1976) – She appeared on the primary ballot in only 18 states but garnered more votes than Frank Church or Hubert Humphrey. (Jimmy Carter was nominated.)

–Sonia Johnson (1984) – She was a minor party candidate but was the first third-party candidate to qualify for federal primary matching funds.

–Pat Schroeder (1987) – When Gary Hart’s campaign fell apart, she stepped into the Democratic race, but was not organized well enough to succeed. She is best known for the fact that she cried when she withdrew, interpreted as a sign of her unsuitability for the position. (When did anyone ever mention John Boehner’s bawling?)

–Lenora Fulani (1988) – Running for the New Alliance Party, she was the first African American Woman to be on the ballot in all fifty states.

–Elizabeth Dole (2000) – Elizabeth Dole, like Clinton, served in Cabinet posts and was the wife of a former presidential candidate when she campaigned for President.

–Michele Bachman (2012) – She won the Iowa straw poll for the Republican Party caucuses.

In 1984 two women ran for President of the United States and ten women ran for Vice-President of the United States, but only one, Geraldine Ferraro, won a position on the national ballot from a major political party. The Democrats nominated her to run as Vice-President with Walter Mondale; they were heavily defeated by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2008 the Republican Party nominated Sarah Palin to run as Vice-President with John McCain; they lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

And now a woman heads the ticket, heading for the glass ceiling, standing on the shoulders of all the women who tried before her.

First Male Spouse

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 9.58.24 PM        I thought I had written enough about First Women in the White House, at least for now, but former President Bill Clinton led me to an addendum. Recently, he said,

“There has been a lot of talk about breaking the glass ceiling. . .

I want to break a ceiling. I am tired of the stranglehold that women have had

on the position of America’s first spouse.”

         Okay, first, we laugh. Then we realize that if we have a woman president, a male presidential spouse would be in the same position as all First Women. Being the first of one’s gender to hold a position means the ability to define that position for others, but it also means that the person in that position must expect slurs about one’s suitability. Perhaps Bill Clinton would be a good choice for First Spouse. Surely his public errors of the past have made him more immune to criticism than many other men.

        Bill Clinton would not be the first man who defined a roll for himself when his wife became a prominent First Woman, but he could wind up being the most visible. In any event, I am certain that many American women would be interested in watching how he and his wife would adjust to this change.

        Personally I would hope that the partner of a First Woman President would retain the model set by women who had held the position. I would wish that the role is more than supporting the president, but also one where the spouse promotes a personal agenda that improves the nation.

 

Musings on First Women in the White House: Part Three

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 11.05.38 AMHillary Clinton was the first First Lady ever elected to national office (Senator from New York) and the First Woman to win a presidential primary, in New Hampshire in 2008. She was not the first First Lady to be influential; Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is recognized as one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. She was not an appendage to her husband, but active in her own right. She was also a First Woman: the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, speak at a national convention, or write a newspaper column.

Eleanor Roosevelt was no the only first lady to be a First Woman, although history does not do other first ladies the honor of recognizing their contributions. For instance, Claudia Alta Taylor who became “Lady Bird” Johnson, wife of Lyndon Johnson, is known for using her “office” to adopt a cause and work to beautify the country. What is less known is that she was a wise investor, responsible for her family’s wealth. She was the first First Lady to hire a press secretary, work directly with Congress, and electioneer on her own.

Two other First Ladies were also First Women. Rose Cleveland was the first First Lady to publish a book. One of her books, published with feminist leader Frances Willard in 1887 was How to Win: A Book for Girls. Herbert Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover, was proficient in Chinese, the first First Lady to speak an Asian language.

How many other First Ladies were strong in their own rights? It stands to reason that, just as powerful men today often appreciate strong women by their sides, powerful men in the past might also have preferred a thinking helpmate.

 

Musings on First Women in the White House: Part Two

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 11.01.40 AMWhen researching Hillary Clinton’s biography, I noted that she had graduated from a woman’s college. Clinton graduated from Wellesley, as did the First Woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. Nancy Pelosi, the First Woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, was a graduate of Trinity Washington University, also a woman’s college. I began to wonder how many women in power attended women’s colleges. My database doesn’t have that information readily available, but here are a few I found on a very quick review:

–Rebecca Ann Latimer Felton, graduate of Madison Female College, was the First Woman to serve in the United States Senate, in 1922.

–Geraldine Ferraro, graduate of Marymount Manhattan, was the First Woman selected by a major party to run for Vice-President of the United States, in 1984.

–Christine Todd Whitman, graduate of Wheaton College, was the First Woman who served in a presidential cabinet-level position after serving as governor.

–Ella Tambussi Grasso, graduate of Mount Holyoke College in 1940, was the First Woman governor who did not succeed her husband in office.

–Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the First Woman ambassador to the United Nations, was a graduate of Barnard.

I wonder how many more women who are graduates of women’s colleges assume positions of power. And then I wonder if there is a direct correlation between being empowered in an environment that excludes men and achieving political success. There does not seem to be a drawback as these women effectively function in the world of men.