Welcome to The Two Minute Drill for June 10, 2016. Normally, this is where we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less. But the events of this week call for something different. There always has to be a first. Although she was by no means the first woman to run for President, on Tuesday Hillary Clinton became the first female to clinch the nomination of a major U.S. political party. In doing so, Clinton stands on the shoulders of generations of American women. And this week, we’re taking a look back at some of the greatest moments in women’s history. This list, obviously, is not meant to be exhaustive. Welcome to a special edition of the Two Minute Drill: From Seneca Falls to Hillary Clinton, 16 Famous Firsts for Women in America.
In July 1848, some 240 men and women gathered in Seneca Falls, New York for a meeting convened “to discuss social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” The meeting spanned two days, had six sessions, included a lecture on law, a humorous presentation, and multiple discussions about the role of women in society. In the 1840s, women faced significant obstacles in both public and private life. Economically, at the time, women could only expect to gain a very few service-related jobs and were paid about half of what men were paid for the same work. Legal impediments only made the prospects more dim: many state statutes prohibited women from inheriting property, signing contracts, serving on juries and voting in elections. The July 1848 convention was meant to draw attention to these issues. The convention produced a Declaration of Sentiments, declaring that women, like men, were citizens with an “inalienable right to the elective franchise.” The Seneca Falls Convention marked the beginning of the campaign for woman suffrage.
In 1869, the Wyoming territorial legislature declared that “every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this territory, may at every election . . . cast her vote.” The motivation of the legislature, however, is subject to some controversy. Some of the suffrage movement’s leaders had respectable reasons for the change. Legislator William Bright, for example, claimed he had a persuasive young wife who convinced him that denying women the right to vote was a gross injustice. Ultimately, though, most of the legislature ended up supporting the measure out of the belief that it would win the territory free national publicity and – and this is true – attract more single marriageable women to the region. In 1869, Wyoming had over 6,000 adult males and only 1,000 females.
Victoria Woodhull (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927) was the first female presidential candidate. Woodhull ran under the banner of the Equal Rights Party and hazarded a path on which no woman before her had ever dared to tread. The party nominated her in May 1872 in New York City to run uphill against incumbent Republican Ulysses S. Grant and Democrat Horace Greenley. Her candidacy, however, was remarkable for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, Woodhull chose Fredrick Douglass, former escaped slave-turned abolitionist writer and speaker, as her running mate. But Douglass never agreed to the nomination – he did not show up to the nominating convention, never campaigned for Woodhull, and actually gave stump speeches for Grant. This was an odd quirk, but was only one of many more caveats to Woodhull, who was technically ineligible to even become president. On inauguration day, she would have been just 34 years old. Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that the president be 35 on the day “he” takes office. Woodhull was also dogged by other details of her biography, and she has largely been reduced to a curiosity and a footnote. But Woodhull’s candidacy is noteworthy, if nothing else than the fact that it took place almost 50 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, meaning that, on Election Day, November 5, 1872, Victoria Woodhull couldn’t even vote for herself.
Margaret Sanger (September 14, 1879 – September 6, 1966) was a birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse. Sanger opened the first American birth-control clinic in Bronwsville, Brooklyn. Since New York “Comstock Laws” banned contraceptives and the dissemination of information about them, Sangers clinic was illegal. It was shut down shortly after opening by the city vice squad, which raided the clinic, arrested its staff and seized its stock of diaphragms and condoms. In 1921, Sanger formed the American Birth Control League, and many more organizations throughout her career. These organizations eventually evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron A. Sargent. It passed Congress forty one years later. On May 21, 1919 it passed the House, 42 votes more than necessary being obtained. On June 4, 1919, it passed the Senate with 56 ayes and 25 nays. Within days, individual states ratified the amendment – beginning with Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Other states followed suit at a regular pace, and the Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, finally granting American women the right to vote.
In June 1921 Edith Wharton’s (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Age of Innocence. Wharton was the first woman to ever win the award, a decision which was not without controversy. The three judges responsible for giving the award – literary critic Stuart Pratt Sherman, literature professor Robert Morss Lovett, and novelist Hamlin Garland – voted to give the prize to Sinclair Lewis for his satire Main Street. But the Columbia University’s advisory board, led by university president Nicholas Murray Butler, overturned their decision and awarded the prize to Wharton for The Age of Innocence. Sherman and Lovett took to the pages of The New Republic to protest the decision. Lewis was also furious but, as a longtime admirer of Wharton, wrote her a gracious, congratulatory letter. The writer Cecily Von Ziegeser has said that The Age of Innocence was the model for her popular Gossip Girl series of books.
On June 18, 1928, Amelia Earhart (July 24, 1897 – July 2, 1937) became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger aboard a Fokker tri-motor aircraft. Earhart was a major proponent of women in aviation and became an international celebrity after the completion of the flight. She continued to promote aviation and helped found the group, the Ninety-Miles, an organization dedicated to female aviators. In 1932 Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. In 1935 she completed the first solo flight from Hawaii to California. On June 1, 1937, Earhart and navigator, Fred Noonan, left Miami, Florida on an around the world flight. Earhart and Noonan had only 7,000 miles of her trip remaining when she disappeared on June 29, 1937.
Francis Perkins Wilson (April 10, 1880 – May 14, 1965) was the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945 under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perkins and Department of the Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes were the only original members of the Roosevelt cabinet to remain in office for his entire presidency. As Secretary of Labor, Perkins played a key role in writing New Deal Legislation, including minimum wage laws. But the most important contribution came in 1934 while she served as chairwoman of the President’s Committee on Economic Security. In this position, Perkins was involved in all aspects o the reports and hearings that ultimately resulted in the Social Security Act of 1935.
By the fall of 1942, many minor league teams disbanded due to World War II. Young men, age 18 years of age ald older, were being drafted into the armed services, and there was fear that the pattern would conintue and that Major League Baseball parks across the country were in danger of collapse. Phillip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the Chicago Cubs, searched for a possible solution to this dilemma. Wrigley asked Ken Sells, assistant to the Chicago Cubs’ General Manager, to head a committee to come up with ideas. The committee recommended a girls’ softball league to be established to be prepared to go into Major League parks should attendance begin to fall. The All-American Girls Softball League emerged in the spring of 1943. The league gave over 600 women athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball. It operated from 1943 to 1954, and gained recognition by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.
On May 9, 1960, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the world’s first commercially produced birth-control bill-Enovid-10, made by the G.D. Searle Company of Chicago, Illinois. The drug became popularly known as “the pill,” and was initially commissioned by birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger, who hoped to encourage the development of a more practical and effective alternative to contraceptives that were in use at the time. The view of “the pill” as medicinal drug and as a social and political panacea has now been tempered, however. The pill was approved prior to revelations about the dangers of thalidomide and prior to the passage of the 1962 Drug Amendments. The chief danger of oral contraceptives, thromboembolism (occasionally fatal obstructions of blood vessels leading to brain, heart, or lungs), was not anticipated at the time of approval. It took almost a decade after “the pill’s” initial approval to prove the statistical link between the condition and oral contraceptives.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) became the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress. She represented New York’s 12th Congressional District for severn terms from 1969 to 1983. Chisholm is best known, however, for her campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.
Chisholm was neither the first African-American candidate nor the first woman candidate to compete for the presidency. But she made an impact on the 1972 Democratic primary season. Chisholm spoke of “revolutionary” possibilities of electoral politics and, when the media was focused on the pitched battle between George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey, won the June 6 New Jersey primary. Chishold didn’t just win the contest, though. She swept it with 67 percent of the vote and put down a marker that anticipated the future.
“I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo,” Chisholm wrote in her 1973 book The Good Fight. “The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready’ to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start . . . I ran because somebody had to do it first. In this country, everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that has never really been true.”
Janet Guthrie (born March 7, 1938) was an aerospace engineer and was training to be an astronaut before being cut from the space program because she didn’t have her PhD. Guthrie turned to car racing instead and became the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. In 1977, Guthrie finished 29th in the Indianapolis 500 after engine troubles forced her out of the race. But the next year she returned, finishing in ninth place (with a broken wrist). Her highest finish, sixth place at Bristol in 1977, is the best finish by a woman in a top-tier NASCA race, now currently tied with Danica Patrick. Guthrie went on to compete in 33 races in NASCAR over four seasons.
Sandra Day O’Connor (born March 26, 1930) was the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. O’Connor received unanimous Senate approval, and was a key swing vote in many important cases, including the upholding of Roe v. Wade. A conservative justice appointed by former president Ronald Reagan, O’Connor retired in 2006 after serving on the Court for 24 years.
Joan Benoit Samuelson (born May 16, 1957) is an American marathon runner who won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. She finished the race in 2:24.52, 400 meters ahead of the silver medalist, Norway’s Grete Waitz. Benoit still holds the fastest times for an American woman at the Chicago Marathon and the Olympic Marathon. She was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright (born May 15, 1937) was the first woman to have become the United States Secretary of State. Albright was nominated by former president Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. She left government service in 2001 and founded the Albright Group, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Hillary Clinton stood in front of supporters on June 7, 2016 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and declared herself the first female presidential nominee of a major political party.
“Tonight’s victory is not about one person,” Clinton said. “It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.” She urged supporters to not “let anyone tell you that great things can’t happen in America. Barriers can come down, justice and equality can win. Our history has moved in that direction, slowly at times, but unmistakably thanks to generations of Americans who refuse to give up or back down . . . This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us, and this is our moment to come together.”
You don’t have to support Clinton, or even particularly like her, to know that – in the inimitable words of Vice President Joe Biden – “this is a big fucking deal.”
To Defeat Trump, Clinton Needs to Run a Positive Campaign
In case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. We take a look at Donald Trump’s incendiary comments about Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge presiding over the lawsuit involving Trump University. We argue that, while it’s easy to become negative in light of these comments, in order to defeat Trump, Hillary Clinton will have to eschew negativity and run a positive, and hopeful, campaign. We explore the research backing this argument up. Read the Column for June 7, 2016.