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Women Who Ran for President of the United States

By Lori Perkins

It’s National Women’s Month (yes, we are over 50% of the population, but only get one month of celebration), and I was just about today year’s old when I learned that the first woman to run for president did so right after the Civil War, before women in America even got the vote! Of course, these, and all the other women who ran for president over the past century and a half, were never covered in any of my history classes or books.

I learned about Belva Lockwood by watching Lidia Poet, the Italian Netflix series about Italy’s first female lawyer. Her lover casually mentioned that perhaps she should go to America, where women have a better chance of living full lives and “this woman Lockwood is running for president.” I looked her up.

Belva Lockwood ran for President on the Equal Rights Party in 1884, when the major party candidates were Grover Cleveland (D) and James G. Blaine (R). She ran again in 1888, when the election was decided by the Electoral College, with Grover Cleveland (D) winning the popular vote and Benjamin Harrison (R) winning the electoral vote and the president. Born in Royalton, New York in 1830, she went to Genessee College in Lima, New York and National University in Washington, D.C. where she studied law and was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C. in 1873. In 1879 she drafted the law passed by Congress which admitted women to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; she then became the first woman lawyer to practice before the Court. She died in 1917.

But she wasn’t the first.

Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1872, the first woman to run for United States President, under that Equal Rights Party banner (see above). Her running mate was Frederick Douglas!!! So we had a white woman and a Black man running for present more than 100 years ago! She ran against Ulysses S. Grant (R) and Horace Greeley (D). She was born in Homer, Ohio on September 23, 1838, and traveled with her parents practicing spiritualist activities. She fought for women’s rights and founded her own newspaper, which was the first place in America to publish Karl Marx’s manifesto. She also was a proponent of the Free Love movement. And such a successful businesswoman that she became the first woman to own a Wall Street investment firm. She died in 1927. What an amazing woman!

I kind of remember hearing about Margaret Chase Smith, but I was a kid when she ran and she was a Republican, so I don’t remember it even though she was from Maine, and so was my paternal take-no-shit grandmother. Smith was the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President by a major party. She received Republican primary votes in New Hampshire, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Oregon, among others, and had 27 first ballot votes at the Republican National Convention. She removed herself from contention after the first ballot. Smith was born in Skowhegan, Maine on December 14, 1897, graduated from Skowhegan High School, and was a primary school teacher for two years. In 1940 she was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives to fill the vacancy caused by her husband’s death; she served in the House for four terms. She was easily elected in 1948 to her first term in the U.S. Senate and reelected to the Senate three more times. She died in 1995 and I also kind of remember a small big deal about her death as a female legislator, but I don’t remember anyone even mentioning her run for the President.

Of course, anyone who was alive in the ‘70’s remembers Shirley Chisholm’s run, especially if you lived in New York City and were a feminist. I did think she was the first woman to run for President until I looked this info up.

Chisholm was the first Black woman to seek a major party’s nomination for U.S. President. She made it onto the ballot in 12 primaries and received 151.95 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention. She was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 30, 1924, graduated from Brooklyn College and earned a master’s degree at Columbia University. Chisholm served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1983, and was the first Black woman to serve in Congress. She was a teacher and director of childcare centers before going into public service and died in 2005.

Since then there have been 20 women who have run for president (from Patsy Mink to Hilary Clinton and Nikki Haley), but the early history fascinates me, because these early women ran for President when women didn’t even have the vote (August 18, 1920)!


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