President’s Day is coming up, and this year I want to honor our female presidents.
Oh, I forgot. There aren’t any. You’d think it was against the law or something. It probably would have been if the founding fathers had thought of it. They didn’t, because when they wrote the Constitution nobody thought a woman could, or should, ever be president. So there are only two requirements – natural-born citizenship and age 35.
It’s not that women haven’t tried. Most people don’t know that the first woman to run for our highest office was Victoria Woodhull, way back in 1870, 50 years before women got the vote.
Undaunted by the fact that women could not vote and that she was not yet old enough to legally become president, Woodhull traveled the country campaigning for two years before the election. Her speeches not only advocated the vote, but also birth control, “free love,” and other positions that were a century ahead of her time.
But alas, Woodhull and her sister were in jail on election day in 1872. Their crime? Publishing the facts about an adulterous affair between the very popular Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and a leader of the women’s movement, Elizabeth Tilton. It was true, but not politically correct, so the Woodhull sisters were indicted for libel and obscenity.
Since Woodhull’s mold-breaking effort, eleven more women have run for president, and the group is much more diverse than the guys who’ve been on the ballot. In 1972, Patsy Mink was the first Japanese American to run, and Shirley Chisholm was the first of three African-American women to run. The other two were Lenora Fulani in 1988 and Senator Carol Moseley Braun in 2004. And long before Mitt Romney came on the scene, fifth generation Mormon Sonia Johnson was nominated by two minor parties in 1984, and was the first third-party candidate to qualify for primary matching funds. A female candidate finally broke into the mainstream in 2008, when Hillary Clinton barely missed becoming the Democratic party standard-bearer.
The country has come a long way since 1870, when Victoria Woodhull first ran for president. These days folks don’t think it’s so strange for a woman to aspire to the White House. So let’s celebrate President’s Day this year – by honoring women who paved the way. And who knows? 2016 could be our lucky number.
Martha Burk is the author of Your Voice, Your Vote: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Power, Politics and the Change We Need! and Cult of Power: The Inside Story of the Fight to Open Augusta National Golf Club, and How It Exposed the Ingrained Corporate Sexism That Kept Women Down.