Today in Feminist History: Shirley Chisholm is Running for President!

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

January 25, 1972: What up until now has been a traditional “Old White Boys Club” of candidates seeking this year’s Presidential nomination had to make room for a Black woman member today.

Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), the first Black women ever elected to Congress, officially announced that she was running for the Democratic nomination for President.

Though Victoria Woodhull ran for President in 1872, as did Belva Lockwood in 1884 and 1888 on minor party tickets, only one other woman (Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, in 1964) has ever sought the nomination of a major party, and there has never been a Black candidate for a major party nomination until now.

The atmosphere was quite festive at the Concord Baptist Church Elementary School Auditorium in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as Representative Chisholm confidently took the stage. Alongside her were many leaders of the Black community, such as Representative Ron Dellums (D-CA). Betty Friedan was there as well, to represent feminists.

Representative Chisholm began her speech to the crowd of 500, most of whom were Black women, by leaving no doubt that the ninth Presidential candidate was quite different from the other eight:

I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America. I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or fat cats or special interests.

I stand here now without any endorsements from many big name politicians or celebrities or any other kind of prop. I do not intend to offer you the tired and glib cliches, which for too long have been an accepted part of our political life. I am the candidate of the people of America. And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.

She reassured her audience that change was possible, and that those in the room could bring it about:

Our will can create a new America in 1972, one where there is freedom from violence and war, at home and abroad, where there is freedom from poverty and discrimination; where there exists at least a feeling that we are making progress and assuring for everyone medical care, employment, and decent housing. Where we more decisively clean up our streets, our water and our air. Where we work together, Black and white, to rebuild our neighborhoods and to make our cities quiet, attractive, and efficient and fundamentally where we live in the confidence that every man and every woman in America has at long last the opportunity to become all that he was created of being.

She concluded by telling her supporters that they were ” … brothers and sisters on the road to national unity and a new America. Those of you who were locked outside of the convention hall in 1968; those of you who can now vote for the first time; those of you who agree with me that the institutions of this country belong to all the people who inhabit it; those of you who have been neglected, left out, ignored, forgotten, or shunned aside for whatever reason, give me your help at this hour. Join me in an effort to reshape our society and regain control of our destiny as we go down the ‘Chisholm Trail’ for 1972!”

After the cheers and applause died down, she answered reporters’ questions about specifics. She said that she intended to enter the primaries in Florida and North Carolina, and was strongly considering a run in California and New York, despite the expenses involved in those mass media markets. Though she expects more donations to roll in now that she’s officially in the race, her unofficial campaign has so far collected $44,000, all in small amounts, and must compete with other contenders who will spend over $1,000,000 each in their primary campaigns. 

She said that delegates who favored her candidacy will be running in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other states. So, even though she admits that winning the nomination is a long shot, she may still “go to the convention as a factor to be reckoned with” and be able to help put together a ticket that reflects real diversity. Then, after the inauguration, she can lobby an incoming Democratic President for cabinet posts and other high appointive positions for minorities and women. 

She told reporters that she is running “to repudiate the ridiculous notion that the American people will not vote for qualified candidates simply because he is not white or because she is not a male. I do not believe that in 1972, the great majority of Americans will continue to harbor such narrow and petty prejudice.”

Let’s hope that her faith in the voters is confirmed as this election year proceeds. But even if her run isn’t successful this year, her candidacy will certainly help bring the day closer when our Presidents are no longer chosen only from the ranks of white males.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.