When Chelsea Clinton addressed the audience at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with just six weeks left in the 2016 campaign, she said that in private moments her mother, Hillary Clinton, reflected on the historical importance of winning the Democratic nomination to become the first woman president of the United States. And although Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency, her historic nomination, through images and words, continues to inch the country forward on our path to inaugurating the first woman president. As heart breaking as the results of the 2016 campaign are for Hillary Clinton and her supporters, her noteworthy path–as first lady of Arkansas, US Senator, Secretary of State and the first woman to win a major party nomination–has been ground-breaking and important. `
Whenever any speaker addresses an audience, there are short term goals: to entertain, inform, persuade, even inspire, and there are long term goals. It is the long term goal of making real a woman US president, that Hillary Clinton, and others have helped achieved, when they have sought the US presidency.
At the Cow Palace in San Francisco on July 15, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the reserved Republican Maine senator who made a bid for the presidency, was greeted with cheers from a reception of supporters who declared: “She is still in the race!” Vermont Senator George Aiken nominated her at the convention, and one admirer noted, “Every woman, Republican and Democrat, owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Chase Smith because she has opened the door for a woman to serve in the presidency.”
Eight years later, New York Congresswoman, the “unbought and unbossed” Shirley Chisholm, received 151 of the delegates’ votes at the convention in Miami. She wanted to effect political change with the power of her delegates. At a speech she said: “I’m just so thankful that in spite of the differences of opinions, the differences of ideology, and even sometimes within the women’s movement the differences of approaches, that here we are today at a glorious gathering of women in Miami.” She also noted that people are more sexist than racist. And others – Pat Schroeder in 1988, Elizabeth Dole in 1999 and Carol Moseley Braun in 2004 were contributing to the long term goal of a woman president. As the most successful female candidate, Hillary Clinton noted in 2008 in her concession speech:
You can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories – unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable, my friends.
She echoed the same sentiment in 2016 at the Democratic National Convention when she said:
Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president. Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. I’m happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. I’m happy for boys and men – because when any barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone. After all, when there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit. So let’s keep going until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves to have.
The Keys to the White House
The governorship has historically been the pathway to the presidency, except when it is not, which most recently has been the case. Nonetheless, for those historically underrepresented presidential aspirants, such as women, it would be wise to keep an eye on the women who are governors. Mary Fallin, Republican from Oklahoma, Nikki Haley, Republican from South Carolina, and Susana Martinez, Republican from New Mexico, and now, Oregon’s Kate Brown who has become the first openly LGBT governor, are women to watch for the presidency.
In this election, Kamala Harris became the second black woman elected to the US Senate in California, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, became the first Somali-American legislator, and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto became the first Latina senator in US history. Programs that support women interested in public office, such as Emerge, are important to help fill the pipeline. These are important wins for cultural acceptance, because just as the election of the first African American as president has not erased difficult race relations in the United States, the election of the first woman president, whenever it comes, will not remove all sexism and misogyny. These “firsts” expand what it means to be a political woman in the United States.
For many reasons, the 2016 presidential race has been historic: there were initially 17 candidates competing for the Republican Party’s nomination, and businessman Donald Trump defied all predictions to emerge as the nominee, despite no previous political experience. Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, running for president for the second time in the Democratic Party, this time winning the nomination, but after a bruising series of contests that revealed deep divisions among constituencies.
When the votes were totaled, Donald Trump won a decisive victory. He won key battleground states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. In her concession speech, Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “to all the women, especially all the young women, who put their faith in me. Nothing has made me more proud than to be your champion.” She added: “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” The factors that contributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s defeat invite scholars to continue to examine the still complicated path to the presidency that women in the United States face, however even her unsuccessful bid is a push forward to the path to a woman president.