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A Woman in the White House — When?

Lenora M. Lapidus,
Former Director,
Women's Rights Project, ACLU
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March 28, 2011

When I heard the news on Saturday that Geraldine Ferraro had passed away, tears came to my eyes. I have vivid memories of Ferraro’s ill-fated candidacy for vice president. In the summer of 1984, I was a college intern at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. When the Democratic Party presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, announced the selection of Ferraro as his running mate, I felt such pride and excitement. I was in the capital for the summer: the heart of power, public policy and electoral politics. To have a woman on the ticket of a major party, with a real shot at winning the White House, hit me like a dose of adrenaline: We can do it!

I also remember, though more vaguely, Shirley Chisholm’s candidacy for president in 1972. I remember going with my mother to the polling booth on Election Day — one of my favorite activities to do with my parents as a child. My father had been a delegate at the Democratic Convention for George McGovern, but on Election Day, my mother decided to write in Chisholm’s name. On that cool November day, I remember squeezing in with my mother behind the curtain of the polling booth, pulling the rod to clear the voting levers, and watching her write in her choice for president: an African-American woman. Even though we knew that Chisholm couldn’t win, the pride I felt in showing our support for such a leader was palpable.

By 2008, the distance we had come was evident by the fact that of the two final candidates for president to emerge from the primaries, neither was a white man. My daughter, Isabel, who is now about the age I was when my mother voted for Shirley Chisholm, had the opportunity to see a woman and an African-American battle it out for president — two viable candidates, each a trailblazer and role model. Isabel’s favorite T-shirt to wear throughout the fall 2008 election season, was one that I brought back for her from the Democratic Convention in Denver, after Hillary Clinton had gracefully released her delegates and encouraged them to join forces with Barack Obama’s so the democrats could take back the White House. The T-shirt read: “Tell your mama to vote for Obama.” Isabel wore this shirt with pride, while singing these words to the tune of a light melody, as she and I went door-to-door in South Philly on that first Sunday in November, urging black voters to get out and vote the following Tuesday. On Election Day 2008, Isabel accompanied me to the polling booth, helped me close the curtain shut, and watched with pride as I pulled the levers for change: Yes We Can!

We’ve come a long way since Shirley Chisholm and Geraldine Ferraro’s bold campaigns. These two trailblazers opened up the doors that made Hillary Clinton’s candidacy possible. We now live in a world where my daughter can feel pride in seeing a woman as a viable candidate for president. She has a role model and can dream of herself being president one day.And I can continue to dream that by the time Isabel is old enough to vote, she may have the opportunity to finally pull the levers and put a woman in the White House.

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