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Running for President and Against the Mainstream

Women at the fringes no longer

Martha Burk | 2/25/2015, 1:56 p.m.
Most people don’t know about the first woman to run for our highest office. Victoria Woodhull gave it a shot, ...
Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations.

It’s that time of year and Americans are honoring some of our favorite presidents. How about honoring our female presidents this time around?

Oh, I forgot. There aren’t any.

Frankly, I find America’s two-centuries-and-counting streak of all-male presidents astounding. You’d think it was against the law to elect a woman. (It probably would have been if the founding fathers had even thought it could happen — it’s not like they let them vote or anything.)

And it’s not that women haven’t tried.

Most people don’t know about the first woman to run for our highest office. Victoria Woodhull gave it a shot, way back in 1872 — nearly 50 years before women even got the vote.

Undaunted by the fact that she was both disenfranchised and too young to legally become president, Woodhull traveled the country campaigning for two years before the election. Her speeches not only advocated women’s suffrage, but also birth control, “free love,” and other positions that were a century ahead of her time.

Alas, Woodhull and her sister spent Election Day in 1872 in jail.

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 yet politically incorrect. So the Woodhull sisters were indicted for libel and obscenity.

Since Woodhull’s mold-breaking effort, more than a dozen other women have run for president. The club 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 the first woman of color to serve in Congress). Shirley Chisholm was the first of three prominent African American women to run. The other two were Lenora Fulani in 1988 and Sen. 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. She became 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’s standard-bearer.

Now the former senator, secretary of state, and first lady is the presumed frontrunner.

Is the country finally ready for a female in the White House? Nobody knows. But if Clinton does run, she’ll be roughed up far more than the boy she’s up against, no matter which one of them it is.

How do I know? Because it’s already started, and she hasn’t even declared.

Naysayers claim Clinton is too old. Actually, she’s younger than Reagan was when he launched his first winning presidential bid.

Some critics wonder, could she stand to run and miss time with her grandchildren? Oh please.

Conservatives attack Clinton for being too liberal since she favors keeping abortion and birth control legal and accessible.

Progressives complain that she’s too conservative. Maybe they should try saying this 10 times: “President Ted Cruz.”

Others complain that she’s a rerun. Jeb Bush, anyone?

Rush Limbaugh lovers hold Clinton responsible for four U.S. deaths in the Benghazi attack. Why aren’t they more concerned about George W. Bush’s record? Some 2,356 Americans died in Afghanistan and 4,489 perished in Iraq.

No doubt Clinton will face more feeble charges, but you get the idea.

The country has come a long way since the 1870s. Unlike when Woodhull first ran, folks don’t find having a woman in charge of the nation an alien concept.

One thing’s for certain: If Hillary Clinton makes a run for it, she’ll win. Even if she doesn’t move back into the White House as president, she’ll succeed. Female candidates won’t be relegated to the fringe anymore after her campaign.

It’s the new normal. Get used to it if you’re not ready.

Who knows? 2016 could be a lucky number for the majority of voters — women.


Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations.