While Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in the United States to win the presidential nomination for a major political party, Victoria Woodhull is the first woman to run for President of the United States (POTUS). She ran for office in 1872, forty-eight years before the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.
In her acceptance speech, Clinton reminded her supporters that their “victory is not about one person—it belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”
When Woodhull made history and sought the presidency as the candidate for the Equal Rights Party, her platform sought to call attention to the social injustices that denied rights to women and to people of color—her running mate was Frederick Douglass. She was the first woman to testify before Congress: she presented her arguments about women’s constitutional rights to vote, and she was one of the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street.
Watch: “America’s Victoria, Remembering Victoria Woodhull” (ZoieFilms, 2015)
She was jailed days before the election. In 1892 Woodhull ran for POTUS once again.
In 1884 and 1888 Belva Lockwood, the first female attorney to argue before the Supreme Court, ran for POTUS as a candidate for the National Women’s Equal Rights Party.
Forty-four years after the 19th Amendment granted women the vote, Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) was the first woman to enter her name for a major party candidate nomination. As a U.S. Senator, she denounced Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-WI) for his infamous red-baiting. She declared his actions demeaned American democracy, “through selfish political exploitation of fear, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance.” When she announced her candidacy for POTUS in 1964, she said “When people keep telling you you can’t do a thing, you kind of like to try.”
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) was the first African American congresswoman and the first African American to run for a major party nomination. In her speech at the Democratic National Convention she told the crowds, “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement in this country, although I am a woman and I am equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people of America.”
1972 was a huge year for women seeking the presidency: Patsy Takemoto Mink, an Asian American congresswoman from Hawaii, and Bella Abzug a Jewish congresswoman from New York also sought the Democratic nomination. And while Linda Osteen James was underage for the constitutional requirements for office, she appeared on the ballot in 25 states.
Abzug, Chisholm, and Mink were among the congresswomen who stood alongside President Gerald Ford (R) when he signed the Equal Rights Amendment on August 22, 1974. Today, the amendment still has not be ratified. There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution that claims sex equality.
In 1976 and in 1980 Ellen McCormack sought a presidential nomination as a crusader against abortion (the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized a woman’s right to choose in 1973).
Lenora Fulani was the first woman to appear on the ballot for POTUS in all 50 states. In 1988, she ran as a candidate for the New Alliance Party; her platform was to bring an end to the two party system.
Cynthia McKinney accepted the Green Party’s nomination for POTUS, and Rosa Clemente was her running mate in 2008. The Green Party’s Jill Stein ran for U.S. President in 2012 and 2016. Besides Stein and Clinton, Carly Fiorina sought the U.S. Presidency in 2016.
Marianne Schall, What Will It Take to Make A Woman President?: Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power (Seal Press, 2013)
Julie Dolan, Melissa M. Deckman, Michele L. Swers, Women and Politics: Paths to Power and Political Influence, Third Edition (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015)