Women for President

Women for President

Monday, February 20, is President’s Day, a federal holiday established in 1862 to boost national morale during the dark days of the Civil War. Originally celebrating George Washington’s birthday, the holiday now commemorates all 45 American presidents (Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms and is counted twice). Sadly, this country has never elected a female president, but the history of women running for the highest office in the land began over 140 years ago.

Women ran for the presidency even before women had the right to vote in elections, and over the years, more than 50 women have undertaken the opportunity. ThoughtCo shares information on each one; here is a short list of some of the most notable:

Victoria Woodhull was Wall Street’s first female stockbroker and first woman to run for the office of president, even though women did not yet have the right to vote — and wouldn't earn it for another 50 years. She also published a weekly newspaper, rose to prominence as a leading voice in the suffrage movement, and maintained a successful speaking career. Nominated by the Equal Rights Party to serve as their candidate, she faced the incumbent Ulysses S. Grant and Democratic nominee Horace Greeley in the 1872 election.

(Woodhull spent Election Eve behind bars due to charges of using the U.S. mails to "utter obscene publication," namely to distribute her newspaper's exposé of the infidelities of prominent clergyman Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and the indiscretions of Luther Challis, a stockbroker who allegedly seduced adolescent girls.)

Belva Lockwood was described by the National Archives as "the first woman to run a full-fledged campaign for the presidency of the United States." Her life was filled with challenges – she was widowed at age 22 (with a 3-year-old child), put herself through college, earned a law degree, became the first woman admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court and the first female attorney to argue a case before the nation's high court. She ran for president to promote women's suffrage, telling reporters that although she couldn't vote, nothing in the Constitution prohibited a man from voting for her. She ran unsuccessfully in 1884 and again in 1888.

Margaret Chase Smith worked as a teacher, telephone operator, office manager for a woolen mill and newspaper staffer before she met and married local politician Clyde Harold Smith at age 32. Six years later he was elected to Congress, and she managed his Washington office and worked on behalf of the Maine GOP. When her husband died in 1940, and she won the special election to fill out his term and was re-elected to the House of Representatives, then elected to the Senate in 1948 – the first female Senator elected on her own merits and the first woman to serve in both chambers.

At the 1964 Republican Convention, Smith became the first woman to have her name put in nomination for the presidency by a major political party. She lost the nomination to Senate colleague Barry Goldwater.

Representative Shirley Chisholm launched her presidential campaign for the Democratic nomination on January 27, 1972, becoming the first Black woman to do so. Chisholm saw herself as "the candidate of the people of America" and acknowledged "my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history."

Her campaign emphasized an increasing push for passage of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) initially introduced in 1923 but newly invigorated by the growing women's movement.

Hillary Clinton was the most well-known and successful female presidential candidate to-date. First Lady and junior Senator from New York announced she was running for President on January 20, 2007, and entered the race as the frontrunner for the 2008 nomination until Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) moved into the lead.

After serving as Secretary of State, Clinton later became the first female presidential candidate to receive electoral votes and win the national popular vote, although she lost the election through the electoral college.

Kamala Harris made waves as the second Black woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the Senate, and now the first Black vice-presidential candidate nominated by a major party. Harris has fought for equal rights and the protection of oppressed minority groups in California since her election to the U.S. Senate in 2016. Following the 2020 election win for the Biden-Harris ticket, Harris became the first female vice president, the first Black vice president, and the first South Asian vice president.

(On November 19, 2021, Harris became the first woman to serve as acting president of the United States, when President Joe Biden invoked the third section of the Twenty-fifth Amendment before undergoing a routine medical procedure. Harris was acting president from 10:10 a.m. until 11:35 a.m.)

Although a significant number of women voters feel America is ready for a woman president, fewer consider it important to see one in their lifetime. We disagree -