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Garfield Angus | Women pioneers of US politics

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:00 AMGarfield Angus

Although women were first granted the right to vote in the United States, via the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the constitution, on August 18, 1920, and widely called 'women suffrage', the big parties, before 2016, have always ignored female presidential hopefuls.

And while one awaits the presidency of Hillary Clinton, credit must be given to the early pioneers, who, against the odds, showed that female leadership was a quest that could be pursued as the right to vote by women and minorities had to be vigorously fought.

It should not be forgotten that Victoria Woodhull pioneered the way for women to stand in presidential elections. She championed the cause for women to have rights to vote under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US constitution. This position she starkly defended before the House Judiciary Committee in 1871, but the Supreme Court ruled against her interpretation of the Constitution.

In the 1872 presidential election, Woodhull, representing the Equal Rights Party, with Fredrick Douglass as her running mate, was the first woman to contest for the presidency. Though she and other women were not legally permitted to vote, she received 26 votes. Women who turned up to the polls to vote for parties of their choice in the 1872 election were arrested.

After Woodhull came another woman, in 1884, Belva Lockwood, from the National Equal Rights Party, who also sought to become US president. She tallied 4,149 votes.

While Woodhull failed with the votes, and Lockwood gained, the mission continued with Gracie Allen, who represented the Surprise Party, in 1940, with 42,000 votes. The 1952 and1968 elections had two female candidates who did not factor, but, in the 1972 election, Linda Jenness ran for the Socialist Workers Party and polled 83,380 votes.

Of note, too, is Margaret Chase Smith, who, in 1964, was the first to run for a major party, the Republicans, and got more than one vote. She received 27 votes.

The revolution was to be ignited in 1972 when Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, announced her bid for the presidency under the Democratic Party and the first black candidate for any party in the US and first woman to seek nomination for the Democrats. She was also an ambassador-designate to Jamaica, under President Bill Clinton, but had to decline the nomination because of ill health.

With the exception of the 1984 vice presidential nominations of Geraldine Ferraro, for the Democratic Party, and that of Sarah Palin, in the 2008 election, no other female politician has dominated the US political landscape like the career lawyer and former first lady, Hillary Clinton.

 

BEHIND OBAMA

 

In 2008, though she narrowly lost the nomination to Barack Obama, to represent the Democratic Party, she is the only woman to be listed at that level in US political history. Never to be down for long, the community activist, former senator, and ex-secretary of state continues her political dominance, and despite the many hurdles, she remains ahead of her rival to be the next president of the USA.

On the night of November 8, 2016, the United States will finally join 54 other countries on six continents that have, in the past century, elected female political leaders, presidents, and premiers. Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, in 1960, led in the revolution when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became prime minister.

The countries to follow were Argentina, when it elected the first female president of a country, in the person of Isabel Perun. Israel, in 1969, elected Golda Meir as prime minister. In the mix, too, are Bangladesh, Finland, Lithuania, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Dominica, the United Kingdom, Turkey, India, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

With history in the making, the US is still not revolutionary in electing women to its national legislatures. It is ranked by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, at 96, out of 193 countries. Less than 20 per cent of their representatives in the Senate and House are women.

While in some countries women earned their right to contest elections, so precarious the issue has been for decades that the quota system has had to be relied on to get females elected, and worldwide, the argument is constant that women never always support other women. President Hillary Rodham Clinton will have a lot to change over the next eight years.

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