Take a look back at eight ground-breaking women who helped put early dents in the glass ceiling.
Victoria Woodhull: 1872
Women’s rights leader Victoria Woodhull, became the first female candidate for president nearly 50 years before women gained the right to vote. A jack-of-all-trades, the Ohio native ran in 1872 as the Equal Rights Party candidate against incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant. She campaigned on a platform that included an eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage and an end to the death penalty. Woodhull selected abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate (though apparently without his permission), to round out her groundbreaking ticket. Woodhull failed to score any electoral votes on Election Day, and there’s no record of how she fared in the popular vote. Even if she had won, she would have been barred from taking up residence in the White House, because she was a year shy of the requirement that presidents be at least 35 years old upon their inauguration. Running again in 1884 and 1892, Woodhull clinched a nomination from the National Woman Suffragists’ Nominating Convention in 1892, with Marietta Stow nominated to be her vice president. The convention was unauthorized, however, making both their nominations purely symbolic.
Belva Ann Lockwood: 1884
Marietta Stow had been a vice presidential candidate eight years prior to her 1892 nomination, when she ran on the Equal Rights Party’s ticket alongside presidential nominee Belva Ann Lockwood. An attorney, politician, educator, author, women’s rights activist and suffragist, Lockwood was not new to trail blazing. After becoming one the first female lawyers in the United States, she successfully petitioned Congress in 1879 to be allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court—the first woman given this privilege. During her presidential campaign, Lockwood became the first woman to appear on official election ballots. She garnered at least 4,100 votes—but was unable to cast one for herself. She disputed the results, believing the actual tally to be higher. In 1885 she asked Congress to investigate, but nothing came of her petition. In 1888 Lockwood would try her luck again, but met with even less success.
Margaret Chase Smith: 1964
The first female to serve in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, and the first female to represent Maine, Margaret Chase Smith was a moderate Republican who strongly opposed the tactics of fellow Senator Joseph McCarthy. On June 1, 1950 she delivered one of the most memorable speeches of her career, “Declaration of Conscience,” where she laid out her opposition to McCarthyism and stated her belief that the basic principles of Americanism included the right to protest, criticize, hold unpopular beliefs and have independent thought. Ten years later, in her successful 1960 U.S. Senate reelection campaign, Smith ran against Lucia Cormier; it was the first time two women ever ran against each other for a Senate seat. In 1964, Smith broke down even more barriers as the first female to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a major party’s convention. She won 227,007 votes in the Republican presidential primary, but fell short of the nomination. Her 24-year tenure in the upper house makes Smith the longest-serving female Republican Senator in history.
The Year of Three Female Candidates: 1972
Pioneering politician Shirley Chisholm became the first African American to be elected to Congress in 1969, where she worked on the Education and Labor Committee and helped form the Black Caucus. Three years later, she made history again by becoming the first African American woman of a major party to run for a presidential nomination. At the Democratic National Convention in Miami, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey released his 53 African American delegates to vote for Chisholm, giving her 152 delegates—she finished fourth. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan attempted, but failed, to run as Chisholm delegates in New York. After serving seven terms in the House, Chisholm retired from office to become a teacher and public speaker.
1972 also saw the first Asian American woman seek the Democratic presidential nomination, when Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink ran as an anti-Vietnam War candidate in the Oregon primary. After only receiving 2 percent of the primary vote, she dropped out of the presidential race and threw her support to the eventual Democratic nominee, George McGovern. Mink had already made political waves in 1959 as the first Asian American elected to Congress, and continued down her change-making path as the principal author and sponsor of Title IX, the landmark 1972 education amendment that prohibited gender discrimination by any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. President George W. Bush later renamed the Higher Education Act the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, and President Obama posthumously awarded Mink the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Linda Jenness was the third female presidential candidate in 1972, running on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Because Jenness was only 31 at the time (and didn’t meet the Constitutional age requirement to serve), her name was only on the ballot in 25 states. Her older running mate, communist Evelyn Reed, replaced Jenness on three states ballots, and together they received 70,000 votes.
Carol Moseley Braun: 2004
Carol Mosley Braun’s 1992 election notched a series of historic firsts, when she became the first (and only) female senator from Illinois, as well as the first (and only) African American female senator in U.S. history. She threw her hat into the presidential ring in 2004, when she attempted to gain the Democratic nomination. Her campaign never gained momentum, however, and due to lack of funds, she dropped out of the race just days before the Iowa Caucus.
Lenora Fulani: 1988
Lenora Fulani became the first female, and the first African American, to get on the ballot in all 50 states when she ran as a third party candidate on the New Alliance Party ticket in 1988. Her platform included racial equality, LGBT rights and political reform. She received more general election votes than any other woman in history, until Jill Stein ran in 2012 on the Green Party Ticket.