Throughout history, a small handful of women have tried to do what Hillary Clinton just achieved. Here are 5 women who paved the way for her nomination, including Shirley Anita Chisholm, above.



These 5 Women Who Ran For President Paved the Way for Hillary Clinton

If we learned anything this week, it’s that Donald Trump is definitely a racist, Republicans are insane for still supporting him, and, most importantly, Hillary Clinton is officially on her way to breaking through the Oval Office-shaped glass ceiling to join a rarified group of female world leaders. Through the help of superdelegates who’ve pledged their support and the 15,676,719 Democrats who’ve voted for her across the United States, she has become living proof of how far the country has come since women were granted the right to vote nearly a century ago.

Her road to the White House hasn’t always been easy. Throughout the presidential race and her political career, she has endured attacks against her character, her likability, and, of course, her appearance. She’s had to pave a path herself so that others could follow. Yet, for all of her success, she still owes her quest for the Democratic nomination to a lineage of strong women who infiltrated American politics, ran for President, and broke down the walls of Washington D.C.’s boys club piece by piece. To celebrate Hillary’s historic achievement, we dusted off our history books and found the women who tore away traditional gender roles as they hit the campaign trail.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1872) 

Nearly 50 years before women were granted the right to vote, Woodhull organized the Equal Rights Party, which nominated her to run for President in 1872–making her the first woman to ever run for President. Her named appeared on the ballot in many states but, ultimately, all votes for her weren’t counted. Outside of politics, she was a fierce feminist who advocated for the ability to marry, divorce and have children at will, and the legalization of sex work, and she and her sister Tennessee were the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. As if that weren’t enough, she also dabbled in newspaper publishing, lobbying, public speaking, clairvoyance (she made bank as a magnetic healer) and philanthropy.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull did "running before President" before it was cool.
Victoria Claflin Woodhull did “running before President” before it was cool.

Margaret Chase Smith (1964)

In a move that made history, Republicans nominated Smith on the convention floor to run for president but, ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be—she dropped out before she was officially named. Before entering politics, she worked as a teacher and went on to serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate, which also made her the first woman to serve in both congressional bodies. Oh wait, one more accolade–she was also the longest-serving female on the Senate until 1995.

Margaret Chase Smith was the Republican version of Hillary before Hillary was even a thing.

Shirley Anita Chisholm (1972)

A mere eight years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation, Chrisholm showed the nation exactly how far an African American woman could make it in her quest for the presidency. She’d already shattered history when she became the first African American woman elected to Congress–where she served for seven terms until 1983–but winning that position wasn’t enough. She wanted to be the President and she fought hard for it, setting out to prove that people would vote for a black woman—and it worked.

During the primary process, she won 430,703 votes, or 2.7 percent of the total of nearly 16 million votes cast. That may not seem like a lot, but it was a revolutionary step forward that helped pave the way for both Barack Obama and now, Hillary Clinton. “I ran because somebody had to do it first,” she said. “In this country, everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that has never really been true.”

Shirley Anita Chisholm is the ultimate boss. She was the first African American woman to run for President and she looked fabulous doing it.
Shirley Anita Chisholm is the ultimate boss. She was the first African American woman to run for President, and she looked fabulous doing it.

Ellen McCormack (1976, 1980)

McCormack’s brief rise to fame in the late 1970s represented an equally important time in American history. The New York housewife left the cul-de-sac and entered the national spotlight when she ran twice—in 1976 and 1980—for president. It was three years after the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to restrict abortion access in Roe v. Wade, and McCormack wasn’t having it. She ran as an anti-abortion candidate whose sole platform was outlawing abortion, which is pretty terrible, but historic nonetheless. She also made history in her presidential run for being the first woman candidate to receive Secret Service protection and to qualify for federal funding. Despite appearing on the ballot in 18 states and capturing 22 delegates in 1976 and then winning 32,320 votes in 1980, her campaign never took off. 

Despite running on an anti-abortion platform, Ellen McCormack did make history when she ran for President twice.
Despite running on an anti-abortion platform, Ellen McCormack did make history when she ran for President twice.

Sonia Johnson (1984)

Born a fifth-generation Mormon, Johnson was a teacher and mother of four before her political career began in 1977 with the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Alongside three other women, she co-founded the Mormons for ERA that went in direct opposition to the Mormon Church’s anti-ERA stance. She became uneasy when she found out that the Church was “opposing something with a name as beautiful as the Equal Rights Amendment.” Her political outreach eventually led to the Church to excommunicate her in 1979 over a brilliantly-titled speech called “”Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church.” This eventually led her to become the presidential candidate in 1984 for two minor parties, the U.S. Citizens Party and the Peace and Freedom Party, and became the first third-party candidate to ever qualify for primary matching funds.  She didn’t win and the ERA never passed, but it did lead to her publishing a number of radical feminist books and creating a women’s commune called Wildfire, which is exactly what we want to see happen to the other failed Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney one day.

Sonia Johnson ditched Mormonism, ran for President, and even started her own women's commune.
Sonia Johnson ditched Mormonism, ran for President, and even started her own women’s commune.

Original imagery by Mikhail Zalesky. Additional imagery via AP Photo, The Guardian, and Getty. 

Stay tuned to Milk for more strong female politicians. 

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