Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Ode to the women who paved the way for Hillary Clinton

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:00 AMGarfield Angus
Victoria Woodhull pioneered the way for women to stand in presidential elections. In the 1872 presidential election, Woodhull, representing the Equal Rights Party, with Fredrick Douglas as her running mate, was the first woman to contest for the presidency.
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.
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.
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As the campaign to elect the next president of the United States (US) draws to a close, due to the disordered nature of this race, a key moment has escaped many commentators - that is, a woman for the first time is on the ballot for a major political party in the US to occupy the White House.

Although women were first granted the right to vote in the US, 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.

FIRST WOMAN TOCONTEST FOR PRESIDENCY

In the 1872 presidential election, Woodhull, representing the Equal Rights Party, with Fredrick Douglas 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, then came another woman, in 1884, Belva Lockwood, from the National Equal Rights Party, who also sought to become US president. She got 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 and 1968 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 Republican, and got more than one vote. She received 27 votes.

FIRST BLACK WOMAN

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 - 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 due to ill health.

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

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 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 greatest superpower in the world.

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 are: Argentina, when it elected the first female president of a country, in the person of Isabel Peron; and 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, 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.