“…certainly in the next 50 years we shall see a woman President
–maybe sooner than you think.”
~ Excerpt of Remarks by President Richard M. Nixon on April 17, 1969
at a Reception Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the
League of Women Voters of the United States.
This entry concludes my series on women
in honor of National Women’s History Month
and International Women’s Day
In 2016 it will be 240 years since our nation’s Declaration of Independence. And in the nearly two and a half centuries that have passed we have yet to see a woman in the White House. Despite the fact that women have comprised roughly half the population from the beginning of our nation to the present and have contributed equally to its founding and growth, there has never been a woman elected to the highest office in the land. I find that bewildering, foolish and, frankly, galling.
The Women Who Ran
It’s not that women haven’t tried. Against tough odds and in a male-dominated environment, history has witnessed some brave women make runs for the White House, some before women even had the right to vote! After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the following women ran for President (although none gained the nomination of either of the two major parties): Margaret Chase Smith-R (1964), Shirley Chisholm-D (1972), Patsy Takemoto Mink-D (1972), Ellen McCormack-R (1976, 1980), Sonia Johnson-Citizens Party (1984), Patricia Schroeder-D (1988), Leonora Branch Fulani-New Alliance Party (1988, 1992), Elizabeth Hanford Dole-R (2000) and Carol Moseley-Braun-D (2004). Hillary Clinton came closest to snagging a major-party nomination for President in 2008, and she appears to be poised to make another try next year. Most recently Michele Bachmann ran and was the only woman in a vast field of men vying for the Republican Presidential Nomination in 2012.
The Women Who Became “Veep” Candidates
As well, two women accomplished great feats by being selected to run as Vice Presidents on major party tickets. Geraldine Ferraro blazed a trail when she became the first woman to run as the Vice Presidential Nominee with Walter Mondale on the 1984 Democratic Ticket. But nearly a quarter century would pass before another woman, Sarah Palin, ran on a major ticket; she joined John McCain on the 2008 Republican Ticket.
The Wealth of Women
However, although the numbers of women who actually have run for President of the United States are low, there is a wealth of women throughout history who were qualified. Here’s my personal short list of American women who I believe would have made strong, ethical and dynamic Presidents: Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Edwards Walker, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sandra Day O’Connor, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards and Nancy Pelosi. I’d love to know what others think.
On to the Present…And the Future
Thus, after nearly two and a half centuries the U.S. at last seems to be ready to consider seriously the election of a woman to the nation’s top job. Indeed, the election of a woman seems to be a growing social movement. That might partly be due to the changes in social consciousness, demographics that show that in the U.S. roughly a third of the population is composed of non-white people, and the greater number of female voters versus male voters across all ethnic lines. As those populations have tended to vote Democratic in past elections, that puts both the Democratic Party and it’s likely Nominee, Hillary Clinton, in a great starting position for the 2016 race for the White House.
Other parts of the equation include the high probability that the mindset of the nation seems to be, “the time has come,” and the probable candidate is one of the — if not the most — highly qualified people, male or female, to be President. Compared to many past Presidents and current possible candidates, she might even be overqualified. Who else has served as First Lady of both a state and the nation, been elected to the United States Senate and appointed to the post of Secretary of State, achieved successful careers as an attorney and businesswoman, and acted as a strong long-time advocate for women and children?
The Age Issue
With all those accomplishments under her belt, some have suggested that Mrs. Clinton might be too old to serve as President. But, when we look back in history, we are reminded that we’ve had several Presidents who served while in their 60s and 70s. President Ronald Reagan was age 78 when he left office after serving two terms; that will be the approximate age span that Hillary Clinton would serve should she be elected to two terms. But, there is also the life expectancy difference between men and women, with women generally still living longer. Finally, both women and men generally are living longer due to modern medicine, better healthcare and lifestyle choices. Thus, the age issue should be moot.
Then there’s that other factor that explains why the potential first woman to be elected as President of the United States is the age that she is: gender discrimination. What other possible explanation could there be for not electing a woman to the Presidency in 240 years?! Because of gender discrimination, many women are older than their male counterparts when they finally achieve the top spots in business, medicine, law, government, etc. Even with the new consciousness of employers and clients that women in leadership positions is good for business, there are more insidious covert forms of discrimination practiced in our modern society, which include differences in corporate mentoring programs and the professional environments that still harbor subtle but pernicious obstacles for women on the rise. Therefore, it often takes longer for women to reach the top. Imagine if Hillary Clinton and many other outstanding female elected officials were men; they would be advancing in much greater numbers and at younger ages to local, state and federal offices, and appointed to top-level posts.
But, once a woman does smash that ultimate glass ceiling — the Presidency of the United States — it is hoped that women will follow in her footsteps in greater numbers and with confidence and ease.
If Not Now, When?
The election and re-election of President Barack Obama demonstrates that barriers are being broken. The Senator from Illinois set the political landscape ablaze with his personal story, passion and appeal to the majority of Americans. Likewise, Hillary Clinton has forged an amazing trail through state and national politics that no one before her has done. To mirror our greater society, women and members of minority groups have always had to work harder than white males to achieve the prized positions. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are spectacular over-achievers, and that’s what it takes to advance members of their respective race and gender.
But we are living in an age of breaking down barriers, of letting those in who have talent, skills, experience, ideas, passion and the know-how to make the nation and the world a better place through in all fields of endeavor despite their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability.
So the question is, if not a woman in the White House now, when? As Candidate Clinton said in 2008, “Although we were not able to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it has 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time, and we are going to keep working to make it so, today keep with me and stand for me, we still have so much to do together, we made history, and lets (sic) make some more.”
Until next time,