How Has the Role of Women in Politics Progressed Since the 1960s?

by Lindsey Chan '08-'09


Throughout most of history, women have been seen as the inferior gender. Generally, women have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men because they were long considered naturally weaker and unable to fulfill the same duties. With the rise of the Women’s Rights movement and Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s, women became more involved in politics. Women pushed for equal rights and there was an increase in women voters and involvement in political parties. Shirley Chisholm was a major female political figures during the 1960s. Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress and even ran for presidency in 1972. Chisholm, along with several activists and congresswomen including Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan, founded the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) which was dedicated to increasing women’s participation in the politics. Over the next three decades, women became more involved in politics and more women were taking offices. Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 and became the first female Justice to the Supreme Court where she served for 25 years. In 1984, a major party chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, to run for vice-president. Another significant year for women in politics was in 1992 when over 60 million women voted and as a result, 24 new women were elected to the House of Representatives along with five new female senators¹. This was the largest increase in women political leaders in American History. Since then, women have made huge accomplishments. In 1997, Madeline Albright was the first woman to become Secretary of State. A decade later, Nancy Pelosi became our first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. And most recently, we had our first female leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 election, former First Lady and senator Hilary Clinton, who is currently Secretary of State. In the 88th Congress (1963-1965) there were only 2 senators and 12 representatives. Currently, there are 17 senators² and 76 representatives³. Women’s roles in politics have come a long way since the 1960s and are progressively increasing.

Shirley Chisholm


Shirley Chisholm, born in Brooklyn, New York, was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress and served seven terms (1968-1983) in the House of Representatives. She represented New York’s 12th District.⁴ Chisholm was an effective advocate on behalf of minorities, women and children. She supported improved employment and education programs, expansion of day care, income support and other programs to improve quality of life and opportunity. Chisholm was also known for her opposition to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War,
"I am deeply disappointed at the clear evidence that the number one priority of the new administration is to buy more and more and more weapons of war, to return to the era of the Cold War and to ignore the war we must fight here, the war that is not optional. There is only one way, I believe, to turn these policies around. The Congress must respond to the mandate that the American people have clearly expressed. They have said, 'End this war. Stop the waste. Stop the killing. Do something for our own people first.'..." Chisholm co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and National Organization for Women (NOW). During her 15 years in the House of Representatives, Chisholm supported the Equal Rights Amendment, National Political Congress of Black Women, and fought to legalize abortions. In 1972, Chisholm was the first African American woman to run for President in the United States. She received 151 delegate votes for the presidential nomination.

"I am a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I make that statement proudly, in the full knowledge that, as a black person and as a female person, I do not have a chance of actually gaining that office in this election year. I make that statement seriously, knowing that my candidacy itself can change the face and future of American politics — that it will be important to the needs and hopes of every one of you — even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win."
— June 4, 1972

Sandra Day O'Connor


Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman and the 102nd person to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Born in El Paso, Texas in 1930, she graduated from Stanford University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. After, she settled in Arizona where she worked as the assistant attorney general in the 1960s. 9 years later, she was appointed to the state senate by Governor Jack Williams and was re-elected for
two two-year terms. In her second term, she was chosen as the Republican majority leader in 1972 which was the first time that any woman in the country had held that position. O’Connor became known as a conservative Republican which brought her a large amount support and ultimately led to her election as judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court. She served in the Maricopa County Superior Court until 1979 when she was selected to serve on the Arizona Court of Appeals. Only two years later in 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court hoping that she would be solidly conservative and work to preserve or keep traditions and resist changes in her decisions on the Supreme Court. O’Connor received a unanimous approval, 99-0, from to the U.S. Senate, however, many conservative politicians objected to her appointment because they thought that she would not oppose abortion. O’Connor refused to comment on her view of abortion but in the famous case Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services which restricted access to abortions, she was the deciding vote and refused to overturn Roe v. Wade. She was an important figure in court cases dealing with freedom rulings, privacy issues, discrimination and har
assment. O’Connor was the deciding vote in many famous court cases including Adarand v. Pena, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, McConnell v. FEC, Lawrence v. Texas and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. She was also the founder of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association and the National Association of Women Judges. O’Connor served on the Supreme Court as Associate Justice for 25 years. She broke the barrier that stated women were not qualified to fulfill a high position in the government. She has become widely respected and a role model for women around the world.

“Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the Court, but I doubt that alone will affect my decisions. I think the important thing about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.”
- Sandra Day O’Connor (interview with Ladies Home Journal)¹⁰

Geraldine A. Ferraro

Geraldine Ferrar
o was the first woman to be nominated by a major political power as a candidate for Vice President of the United States. Ferarro was born in Newburgh, New York in 1935. She earned degrees at Marymount Manhattan College and Fordham University Law School. She practiced law for 14 years and was an assistant district attorney in Queens, New York from 1974-1978. She also served on the Advisory Council for the Housing Court of New York City and as president of the Queens County Women's Bar Association. In 1978, Ferraro ran for Congress from New York City’s conservative 9th District, she was a "tough democrat”¹¹ and appealed to voters. She won
the election to the U.S. House of Representatives. She kept conservatives on her side by supporting tax breaks for parents of children attending private schools but she primarily focused on more liberal issues such as women’s rights.¹² She was reelected in 1980 and 1982 and became known for her women’s and human rights advocacy, she was a member of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, she worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and sponsored the Women’s Economic Equity.¹⁰ Ferarro quickly gained influence in the Democratic Party and obtained a large support group in 1984 when she was named by Walter F. Mondale, who had won the Democratic presidential nomination, as his choice for Vice President. However, they were defeated by Reagan and Bush. Soon after, Ferraro’s term in Congress ended in 1985. She has gone on to write a book about her candidacy and still continues to support women's interests and other social issues.¹¹

Diane Feinstein


Senator Dianne Feinstein, member of the Democratic Party, has accomplished many historical firsts: The first woman to serve as President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; San Francisco's first woman Mayor, the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Governor of California and the first woman, alongside Barbara Boxer, elected to represent California in the United States Senate.¹ Feinstein was born in San Francisco, California in 1933. She received a B.A. in History from Stanford University in 1955. She went on to work for California's Industrial Welfare Commission and was appointed in 1962 to a four-year term on the state's Women's Board of Paroles. In 1969, Feinstein won election to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and remained on the Board for nine years. She became the Boards first female president. During her term on the Board, she ran for mayor twice, in 1971 and 1975, but lost both times. In 1978, she decided to announce that her political career was over; however, half an hour before the press conference Mayor George Mascone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered.¹ These murders put Feinstein into the position of acting mayor. She had inherited a troubled city full of violence and political tensions. She tried to restore the city’s glory and accomplished just that. She cleaned up San Francisco’s neighborhoods, created city housing and eventually employment rates rose and the crime rate fell by almost 30% in only six years.¹ In 1987 she was awarded the Living Legacy Award and was named the nation’s “most effective mayor”.¹ In 1990 Feinstein ran for governor of California but lost by a narrow margin to Pete Wilson. Two years later she ran for Wilson’s former Senate seat along with fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer. They were elected to the Senate in 1992 and became the first women senators ever elected in California. Prior to 1993 only fifteen women had ever served in Senate. She has been Senator of California for 17 years and has been involved in a range of issues, from the decision of President Bill Clinton to make Mexico a U.S. ally in the fight against illegal drugs to fighting against weapons and crime to trading with China.¹ She continues to be an active senator supporting many issues and introducing bills such as the bill to allow local school districts to build new and smaller schools.¹ Most recently, it has also been reported that Feinstein is considering to run for Governor of California in 2010.¹

Madeline Albright

Madeline Albright was the first woman to become the United States Secretary of State. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1937, Albright came to the United States in 1948 after fleeing from Czechoslovakia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Wellesley College in 1959 and then went on to get her master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government in 1968.¹ She began her political ca
reer working for the failed presidential campaign in 1976 of Senator Edmund Muskie and served as the Senator’s chief legislative assistant. In 1976 she had received her Ph.D from Columbia and was working for Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. In 1982, she became a research professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and the director of women students enrolled at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service from 1982 to 1993. She also tau
ght undergraduate courses in international affairs, U.S. foreign policy and implemented programs designed to enhance women’s professional opportunities in international affairs.¹ Albright worked for many Democratic campaigns. She was the advisor to presidential candidate Walter Mondale and vice president candidate Geraldine Ferraro during the 1984 presidential campaign. During the 1988 presidential campaign she became the senior policy advisor to Michael S. Dukakis. One year later, she became the president of the Center for National Policy. Albright received great public attention when President Clinton, in 1993, named her ambassador to the UN after she served as his senior foreign policy advisor during his campaign. As a UN ambassador, she acquired much notice by balancing her time between the UN, Clinton Administration, and the direction of American foreign policy. In 1996, Albright was nominated by Clinton for Secretary of State and the Senate unanimously, 99 – 0, confirmed her nomination.¹
She was the first woman to ever hold this position and she was the highest-ranking female in United States government.¹ She made several trips around t
he world meeting with foreign leaders such as Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel and began a peace mission in the Middle East. She met with the Israeli Prime Minister, Palestinian leader, Syrian President, Egyptian President, President of Saudi Arabia and President of Jordon.¹ Albright made history in 2000 when she visited North Korea to meet with Kim Jong II. She was the first U.S. Secretary of State to ever visit North Korea.¹ Her term ended in 2001 but has still gone on to do many different things. She has won numerous awards and she founded the Albright Group, an international consulting firm in Washington D.C. Albright currently serves on the Council on Foreign Relations Board of Directors and is the chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute. She has also written three books and is the Mortara Distinguished Professor of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service.²⁰

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice has
been referred to as the “most powerful woman in global politics”.²² She is the first African-American woman to become the U.S. secretary of state. She was born in 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama and was a musical prodigy from a very young age. She went on to attend Denver University where she earned her BA in political science and then earned her Master’s Degree at University of Notre Dame. In 1981, she received her PhD in Political Science from the Graduate School of International Studies, which was ironically was under the leadership of Madeline Albright’s father.
Rice was hired by Stanford and was an Assistant Professor of Political Science (1981-1987).²¹ Rice was a Democrat until 1982 when she changed to the Republican Party after the term of Jimmy Carter.²³ In 1989, she became director of Soviet and East European affairs with the National Security Council and special assistant to George Bush. She returned to Stanford University where she was named provost of Stanford. Rice was appointed by the governor of California to a committee to draw the state legislative and congressional districts in the State.²¹ In 2000, Rice was asked to help George W. Bush in his election. She made her mark when she was appointed National Security Adviser by George W. Bush in 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, Rice became extremely important on both national and international levels. She was also a supporter of the war in Afghanistan. In 2004, Rice became Secretary of State after Colin Powell’s resignation; her nomination was confirmed by Senate, 85-13.²³ She was able to reform and restructure the department and US diplomacy as a whole. As Secretary of State, Rice has built close relationships with world leaders, traveled around the world and initiated many diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Bush Administration. Rice visited 83 different countries, traveling for 2118.19 hours (88.26 days) and a total distance over a million miles.²³ Rice played a key, behind-the-scenes role in all of President George W. Bush's major decisions during his presidency.²²

Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi is the current and first woman Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, representing the Democratic Party. Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1940, Pelosi graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C.. Pelosi slowly made her way into politics, starting out as a volunteer for the Democratic Party. She helped out with Democratic campaigns but then in 1977 she became northern chair of the California Democratic Party and a short four years later she became the chair for the entire state.²
In 1987, she was elected to Congress in a special election representing California’s 8th District which includes San Francisco. She emerged as one of the top Democrats in Congress. In 2002, she was voted minority leader of the House, this was the first time a woman was leading a major political party.² It was 4 years later that she broke new ground for women in U.S. politics again, this time she was elected Speaker of the House for the upcoming 2007 session.² She was re-elected as Speaker in 2009. Pelosi is known for her advocacy for human rights, the environment, AIDS prevention, family planning programs and pro –choice on women’s reproductive issues.² Pelosi has publically talked about her political positions. She has stated that she opposes the Iraq War and President George W. Bush, favors the federal bailout, supports Medicare and Medicaid and is against Prop 8.² She is the second in the line of presidential succession making her the highest-ranking female politician in the history of the United States.²

Hilary Clinton


Hilary Rodham Clinton
has accomplished several political achievements. She is currently the 67th United States Secretary of State; she was a Senator from New York for eight years; she was the First Lady of the United States for 8 years; and most impressively, she was a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 election. Hilary Rodham Clinton was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1947. Clinton received her undergraduate degree in political science from Wellesley College and graduated with the highest honors in 1969. She then went on to attend Yale University Law School. During her time at Yale she worked with civil rights attorney Marian Wright Edelman and she volunteered in several organizations stressing children’s rights.²
She graduated Yale in 1973 and became a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund. In 1974, she began teaching at the University of Arkansas Law School. The following year she married Bill Clinton. In Arkansas, Clinton joined Rose Law Firm and still focused of children and family rights.² In 1978, Clinton became Arkansas’s first lady after her husband became governor. Clinton continued her advocacy for children’s rights: She led the establishment of the Home Instruction Program for Pre-School Youngsters and she was elected chairperson of the board of the Children’s Defense Fund. In 1988 and in 1991, National Law Journal named her as one of the “One Hundred Most Influential Lawyers in America.” ² Following her husband’s presidency in 1992, her involvement in politics, both national and international, increased. Clinton was very active in the White House and pushed for health care reform, children’s issue
s and women’s issues.² In 2000 Clinton announced that she was running for a seat in the U.S. Senate representing New York as the Democratic nominee; she was the first woman to be elected to the Senate from New York. She was then re-elected in 2006. In 2007 Clinton announced her plan for another first- to be the first female president. She ran in the Democratic Primaries in 2008 but came in behind Barack Obama, however both broke the previous record by receiving over 17 million popular votes.² Clinton suspended her campaign and supported Obama. Shortly after Obama won the U.S. presidential election, he nominated Clinton to become Secretary of State in his cabinet. She is the third woman to serve this position and the first former First Lady to serve in the United States Cabinet.²


Video on how Women in Politics is Changing Today!



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