Hillary Clinton is running for president as the Democratic nominee this year, and for many people she’s the first woman to ever seek that job. It might surprise you to know, however, that hundreds of women have run for president. One of our guests introduces three other prominent females who made progress in running for the White House. The other talks about the private side of Secretary Clinton and how, as First Lady, she tried to keep family life as normal as possible for the president and her daughter, Chelsea.
Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire and author of the book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s quest for the American presidency
Cynthia Levinson, author of a book for eight- to 12-year-olds titled, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do all the good you can
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16-35 Women Presidential Candidates
Gary Price: This presidential election will go down in history as a great historical event. Of course, all presidential elections are milestones of one sort or another, but 2016 is special, it’s the first time a woman is on the ballot representing a major political party. It might surprise you to know, however, that many women have run for the White House through America’s history. In fact, more than 200 ladies have sought the job of Commander-in-Chief.
Ellen Fitzpatrick: Most of these women were very minor candidates at the state level and running on third parties, they never got any traction. Some of them were just quixotic attempts, but nonetheless it shows a much longer history of political engagement by women in this quest than I would have ever guessed, even as a historian.
Price: That’s Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire and author of the book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s quest for the American presidency. In her book, Fitzpatrick profiles three of the most famous women who ran for president and a bit on current Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Who were these trailblazers? Well, the first woman whose name you might recognize is Victoria Woodhull…a woman who ran in 1871 when women weren’t even allowed to vote.
Fitzpatrick: Her position was kind of an interesting and clever one. She said, “I can’t vote, but I can be voted for.” She also was engage in an effort to try to enlarge the electorate to include women in this period of time, as were many women suffragettes. And in the case of Victoria Woodhull, she tried to make the case and, in fact, appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to argue that women were enfranchised in fact under the terms of the 14th Amendment, which lays out the rules that those who are born and naturalized in the United States are citizens and that it prohibits barring any infringement on the rights of those citizens.
Price: Woodhull was running for office after the Civil War, during Reconstruction when there was a lot of debate about democracy and what it meant. She and the suffragettes saw this as an opportune time to get their foot in the door and push for inclusion in the process. Many of her fellow citizens and the press weren’t so sure they wanted women out of the house participating in government, or that they were well-suited for politics.
Fitzpatrick: There certainly was the argument that women were too irrational, to vote; that they were governed by biological forces that made them vulnerable to, you know, mood swings, you know the whole array of stereotypical views of women’s nature that prevailed in the 19th century militated against this idea of women involved in public life. And, of course, the facts were that there were many women who were working and did have to support their families but the ideal notion for middle-class women was certainly that they inhabit this domestic sphere.
Price: Despite the fact that Woodhull was a successful businesswoman and the first woman broker on Wall Street, she failed in her bid for the presidency. In fact, she spent Election Day in jail on obscenity charges for publishing a story about an alleged affair in the newspaper. The next woman Fitzpatrick writes about was never touched by scandal – Margaret Chase Smith, Republican senator from Maine. Smith ran in 1964 for the GOP nomination. Even though she was a well-respected member of Congress and had plenty of legislative experience, Fitzpatrick says she ran a rather unorthodox campaign compared to the other hopefuls.
Fitzpatrick: She, in 1964, wedded herself to a set of practices that had really helped her in Maine to get elected time after time. And she took the stand that she would not make any promises, that she would not accept campaign donations – she would send back even a dollar with a note saying, “Thank you for your support but I can’t accept outside contributions in this way.” She also greatly admired her record of attendance and she would not travel or participate in any event that would prevent her from casting her vote in the Senate. Do these sound like winning strategies in national electoral politics from the standpoint of 2016? Absolutely not.
Price: Of course today it costs millions to run for the nomination, and the candidate has to crisscross the country numerous times to attend campaign events. But even back in ’64, you couldn’t run a credible campaign entirely out of your own pocket and by staying in Washington. Add to that the fact that she was very independent, not easily steered to take the party line and not considered a candidate that could win, and even her colleagues in Congress wouldn’t back her campaign to any great extent. A lack of backing by trusted colleagues was also one of the reasons why New York Representative Shirley Chisholm didn’t get some major support when she ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. The first African American woman elected to Congress was popular in her district and a very experienced legislator, but the civil rights activists she supported didn’t reciprocate.
Fitzpatrick: When she aspired to the presidency, she soon discovered that people she thought ought to be backing her – her fellow civil rights activists, some African American men didn’t think that the first African American to run for the presidency should be a woman. They were heard to say they were concerned that she would be more interested in women’s issues than in issues than in issues that affected African Americans – as if, you know, there was no overlap between these two things. And she was also very disappointed in the response from some White, feminist leaders, people like Bella Abzug who celebrated her, who insisted in standing on the dais with her when she announced her run for president, but who would never publicly endorse her. She was very disappointed.
Price: She was also the victim of “dirty tricks” originating from the Nixon White House. Fitzpatrick says Chisholm was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and refused to vote for any appropriations bills that included funding for the war.
Fitzpatrick: During the California primary the Nixon Administration played a dirty trick on her and one of the members of Nixon’s re-election campaign – actually it was someone in the Nixon White House – engineered the release of a phony press release on Hubert Humphrey stationary saying that Chisholm had been hospitalized in a mental institution, that she was completely deranged; she had, you know, had been arrested dressed in men’s clothing and speaking gibberish and had been in and out of psychiatric care. It was completely made up. But the thrust of it was to say, “African Americans shouldn’t be confused and shouldn’t vote for this person.” Humphrey had no role in it. It came out of the Nixon White House and this lady was hardly a threat.
Price: Chisholm lost her bid and it was more than 40 years before a woman candidate made inroads into a major party nominating process – Hillary Clinton. We all know about Clinton’s policies and the scandals that followed her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, before, during and after his tenure in the White House. Cynthia Levinson wants us to understand the more human, down-to-earth side of the Hillary Clinton. Levinson is the author of a book for eight- to 12-year-olds titled, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do all the good you can. Levinson discusses all of the major milestones in Clinton’s career, but she also talks about the nominee’s upbringing in Park Ridge, Illinois, and her parents’ insistence that she work hard and give back to the community.
Cynthia Levinson: Her parents had very different views about child raising and also about politics. Her father didn’t give Hillary an allowance, he made her work, she had jobs to do around the house as did her brothers and she worked every summer from the time that she was quite a young kid and she didn’t get paid for these things. She was just expected to do them.
Price: Doing jobs without receiving payment instilled a strong sense of charity in the young girl, and Levinson tells a story of how Hillary turned this into action when she met a young migrant worker who couldn’t afford a dress.
Levinson: Her Sunday school group met with migrants, itinerant migrants working on farms in the Midwest. And she felt very bad for a girl who wanted desperately to have a communion dress. And Hillary talked with her mother and persuaded her mother that they should buy a dress for this girl. And Hillary very proudly gave it to the child and the child’s mother was just so thankful, as the child was. So I think that growing up with these different perspectives and different voices in her head of what you give, what you earn were very important to her own political development.
Price: As First Lady, Levinson says that Hillary tried to make the White House as homey as possible for Chelsea, and give her a life that was as normal as possible for a President’s daughter.
Levinson: On the night of their first inauguration, the adults, of course, go off and there are many balls and that sort of thing. But Chelsea got to have a sleepover with a scavenger hunt and her friends that the White House staff set up for them. And that’s how she and her friends learned her way around the White House, because they had to go find the ramp, the slides from the third floor down to the living quarters and that sort of thing. And I explain how she made it homey by putting in comfy couches in the solarium so Chelsea could have sleepovers there and turning a very fancy area in the White house – a small room – into a family kitchen where they could just sit around a kitchen table and sit in their straw chairs and Hillary and Bill could cook scrambled eggs for themselves. That’s how I tried to make it an appealing place for kids to understand as a place to live.
Price: Levinson also discusses Clinton’s political career and service as Secretary of State in ways that would be interesting to kids. She talks about her travels when she took Chelsea along so kids can see the different countries through her eyes. Levinson also teaches young people that being in government service isn’t just about meeting heads of state. In China, it also included her efforts on behalf of oppressed people.
Levinson: There’s also a very dramatic story of what’s basically a car chase in Beijing where a blind and disabled dissident who is trying to take refuge in the American embassy is trying to get to the embassy before Chinese authorities can track him down and nab him and put him in prison. So that in itself is almost a minute-by-minute story of how, with Hillary’s help, he does make it to the embassy. That’s quite a thrilling story.
Price: Levinson and Hillary Clinton were friends and classmates at Wellesley College, and the biography includes the author’s memories of those times as well. Levinson says that her memories of the nominee are of a warm, funny person with a strong sense of duty who genuinely cares about children and families. Kids and adults who want to learn more about the personal side of the candidate, can read Cynthia Levinson’s book, Hillary Rodham Clinton. You can also visit her website at CynthiaLevinson.com. For a look at Clinton and the other major female candidates who ran for president, pick up Ellen Fitzpatrick’s book, The Highest Glass Ceiling, available now. You can visit her site at EllenFitzpatrick.net. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints online.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.