The above portrait by Simon Berger is a fitting tribute to the Vice President of the United States Kamala Devi Harris. The highest-ranking woman in the United States government’s history. This portrait is made by a million tiny cracks in the glass. The glass is cracked but not yet broken. I wanted to honor this legacy by acknowledging some of the women who came before her, seeking to break the highest hardest glass ceiling, the office of President of the United States. Below are some highlights on the timeline of extraordinary women – putting their own cracks in the glass.
The first woman to run was Victoria Claflin Woodhull in 1872, almost 50 years before women were able to vote (legally). She ran as a candidate for the Equal Rights Party against Ulysses S. Grant (R) and Horace Greeley (D). She was also the first woman to own a Wall Street Investment Firm. She advocated for the rights of women and founded her own newspaper.
Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman to attempt to be a major party’s nominee for President. Her legacy began in 1940 when she was elected to the US House of Representatives to fill the vacancy left by her husband, where she served for 4 terms. In 1948 she ran and won a seat in the US Senate representing Maine, where she served until 1973, 4 terms, and until 2011 held the record of longest-serving Republican woman in the Senate. During her 1964 presidential run, she received primary votes in several states and 27 first ballot votes at the Republican National Convention, before removing herself from contention.
In 1968 Charlene Mitchell, became the first Black woman to run for President representing the Communist party. Mitchell, now 91, continues to serve as a civil rights activist and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1972 Shirly Chisolm ran to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. Chisolm won her seat in the New York Legislature in 1964 becoming only the second Black woman to be elected. Then in 1968, she ran and won her seat in Congress. She quickly earned her nickname “Fighting Shirley” introducing more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality. In 1977, she became the first Black woman, and only the second woman, to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. During her presidential run, she was stopped from participating in debates; however, after taking legal action, she was permitted to make a speech. She entered 12 primaries and earned 152 delegates at convention. When asked how she wanted to be remembered she said, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change.”
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro, was the first woman and the first Italian American to be nominated Vice President of a major American political party ticket. She was the running mate to the Democratic Party’s Presidential Nominee Walter Mondale. irst elected to office in 1978 as a Congresswoman from New York, she quickly became a rising star in the House until she was placed on the ticket. In 1993, she was appointed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and eventually promoted to US Ambassador. As a champion for women’s rights around the world, Ferraro was the first to condemn anti-Semitism and managed to prevent China from blocking a motion criticizing China’s record on human rights.
The next presidential cycle saw Lenora Fulani run for President of the United States as a member of the New Alliance Party. She is the first Black, independent, and female candidate, to be on the ballot in all 50 states. She received almost a quarter of a million votes in the general election. Lenora, would run again in 1992 and published her autobiography “The Making of a Fringe Candidate”.
In 2000, Elizabeth Dole, resigned from her position as head of the Red Cross to run for President on the Republican party ticket. As an accomplished lawyer, she served under Johnson and then was appointed to the Federal Trade Commission by Nixon. She also served as a Secretary of Transportation under Ronald Reagan and the Secretary of Labor under George H. W. Bush. . She was a top contender, for the republican primary, placing in the top 3 of national polls. She later ran and became a United States Senator from North Carolina.
In 2004, Carol Moseley Braun was one of 10 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination. Though she was one of many, she broke a lot of barriers on her own. Carol Moseley Braun was the first African American woman elected to the United States Senate, the first African American United States Senator from the Democratic Party, the first woman to defeat an incumbent U.S. Senator in an election, and the first female U.S. Senator from Illinois. The Senator from Illinois received her law degree from the University of Chicago and served as the Ambassador to New Zealand for Bill Clinton.
In 2008, we saw another crack in the glass, the first female Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin was announced as the Vice Presidential pick for Senator John McCain for the Republican Party. Sarah Palin was the first Republican female Vice Presidential nominee and only the second woman on a major party ticket. Since her presidential run, former Governor Palin is still active in popular culture and in conservative politics.
In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton made history as the first woman nominee for a major party in the United States on top of the Democratic party’s ticket. Though she didn’t shatter it once and for all, she received 65,844,610 votes putting 65 million tiny cracks in that ceiling and allowed many to dream. Her life has been dedicated to public service and making progress for many. As part of the U.S. delegation to Beijing to attend the U.N Fourth World Conference (1995), she prominently declared, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
Hillary Clinton was the first woman elected to the US Senate from New York in 2000. With her success in the senate, she launched her 2008 campaign for President. After the unsuccessful bid she was appointed to Secretary of State in the first term of the Obama Administration. She remains active in many causes to this day and is an icon to many.
This brings us to Vice President Kamala Devi Harris. The first woman Vice President of the United States, the first Black woman, the first South Asian American, and the first graduate of a historically Black college and university to be elected as Vice President of the United States. As she says, “she is determined not to be the last.” As I reflected on what it means to have Vice President Kamala Harris, I wrote these words:
We were told today would never come - that a mirror of us didn't belong on that stage. Today - in the unlikely story that is America - Kamala Devi Harris reflects back to us what so many see in the mirror. It is the promise of progress that unites us and joins us in this grand experiment. We are stronger and better because we can now tell young boys and girls anything is possible.
While her journey as Vice President is just beginning, her legacy as the first is forever imprinted on our nation. We will never have to say that no woman has ever held this office again. These barriers were not easily broken, and I hope you learned something from the women who came before. Raising your hand to run for office is never easy, and each one left a distinguished mark on that glass ceiling. Next cycle, I look forward to seeing it broken once and for all.