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On Monday, January 21, Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, announced that she will be running for president in 2020.
Harris has been lauded for her decision to run, and joins a remarkable lineup of four women who have announced their plans to run for the presidential seat in the upcoming election (Kirsten Gillibrand, a former congresswoman and current senator from New York; Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii; and Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts are the other three women).
Harris, Warren, Gabbard, and Gillibrand have been lauded as women who are making waves in the political pools and writing new lines in the history books, but before anyone can focus on the women of today, there must be retrospect regarding the women of yesterday.
Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1872)
While Hillary Clinton may be a history-maker in her presidential aspirations and the progress she made, by no means was she the first one to try and win the votes to be elected as the United States Commander in Chief.
The daughter of a snake-oil and con man, young Victoria helped support her family by acting as a fortune teller, fraudulent healer, mystic and medium.
Despite having no formal education, Victoria and her sister, “Tennie” would go on to become the first women to own a brokerage firm on Wall Street and she became the first women to found a newspaper within the United States.
From free-love to spiritualism, Victoria was opinionated in many topics, and eventually, that might have been her downfall. For while Victoria did announce that she would be running for president during the 1872 election (which was won by President Ulysses S. Grant), many famous suffrages of the time, including Susan B. Anthony, did not support Victoria due to how she attempted to claw her way to the top. Plus, Victoria's views on free love were shocking to society of the time – and Victoria's nominated vice-president was none other than the former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass.
In the end, Victoria Woodhull's beliefs were just too shocking and forward-thinking for the women of the time to really back, and Woodhull ended up emigrating to England, where she married her third husband and lived out the rest of her life.
Gracie Allen (1940)
Like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, Gracie Allen didn't make her start in politics, but rather in the entertainment industry. A film/television star as well as a comedian, Gracie Allen rose to international fame due to the comedic gig that Gracie starred in alongside her husband, George Burns.
Gracie's political run for the presidency actually was more of a publicity stunt than anything. With her husband at her side, Gracie made a campaign tour across the country on a private train and performed their live radio show at different cities during their stop. Despite the campaign being more farce than fact, Gracie did secure a political endorsement from Harvard University. Gracie Allen ended up dropping out of the presidential race just before the election, but she still received her own fair amount of write-in votes once the ballots were cast.
Shirley Chisholm (1972)
Before Kamala Harris, Shirley Chisholm was the first woman of color to run for the presidency. Shirley was also the first black woman elected to Congress. Further, Shirley was the daughter of immigrants of Caribbean descent. Shirley was born in the United States, but when she was five years old, her parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Barbados. Shirley would not return to the United States until she was 10 years old, and when she spoke, Shirley had a noticeable West Indian accent. Regardless of being born a United States citizen, Shirley considered herself a Barbadian American due to the time she had spent growing up on the island. In 1971, Shirley announced that she would be running for the seat of the president under the Democratic party and her slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.”
Despite her attempts to run for president, Shirley ended up not being able to secure the delegate votes that would put her name on the ballot, and George McGovern eventually was given the Democratic ticket. Shirley passed away in 2005, meaning she did not live to see President Obama secure the office of Commander in Chief, nor witness Hilary Clinton's run for the presidency.
Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink (1972)
Alongside Shirley Chisholm was another woman vying for the election, Hawaiian and third-generation Japanese American Patsy Mink. As the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii, as well as the first elected woman from an ethnic minority, Patsy had already carved her name into history. While Patsy, like Chisholm, did not make it onto the Democratic presidential ticket, she was an author and sponsor of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits gender discrimination by federally funded institutions. Patsy also introduced the Early Childhood Education Act and Women’s Education Equality Act. After her death, Patsy was honored by the renaming of the Higher Education Act to the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act and received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Obama.
Geraldine Ferraro (1984)
Before John McCain made Sarah Palin his vice president running mate in 2008, Geraldine Ferraro was selected to run alongside presidential nominee and former Vice President under Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale in 1984. Geraldine ended up being bombarded with sexist remarks and questions, mostly pointed towards her ability – as a woman – to handle the role of vice president. The Mondale campaign hoped that selecting Geraldine as the V.P. would bolster Mondale's campaign and attract women voters, as well as ethnic voters. As an Italian-American, Geraldine was the daughter of a first-generation Italian mother and an Italian-immigrant father. Selecting Geraldine to be his running mate was a gamble on Mondale's part, and it didn't pay off. While activists favored the idea, polls proved that only 22 percent of women were enthusiastic about Geraldine's V.P. running status. Throughout the election, Geraldine's experience and gender were cause for concern, and eventually, the election went to Presidential Incumbent Ronald Reagan.
The United States has yet to have a woman sitting in the big chair as a President or Vice President... but that alone is no good reason to vote for a candidate.
I, as much as the next woman, would be delighted to see the oval office occupied by a woman, but I want to give every candidate the respect of voting for him or her based upon their experience, their values and their goals for office – not their gender.
Should a woman win the votes for the 2020 Presidential Election, I hope it is based on what she brings to the table, not the fact that she's simply a woman.