In her concession speech almost a year ago today, Hillary Clinton said, “I know that we still have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But someday someone will.” The glass ceiling refers to that upper limit in organizations that remains elusive or difficult for women to reach. While I think we are still bumping our heads on the glass ceiling of politics, these women in politics have taken it a bit further than it once was.
While she may not be a household name, Victoria Woodhull was a driving force in the American women’s right to vote in political elections. In 1871, she became the first female to address a congressional committee, where she stated that recent changes to the 14th and 15th amendments had already given women the right to vote. The House Judiciary Committee she spoke before did not pass the proposed legislation, but she was still a trailblazer. She would go on to be a key figure in the U.S. suffrage movement.
Victoria Woodhull may have opened up the way for Hillary Clinton as Victoria was the first woman to run for U.S. President. Her campaign to run was officially announced in April of 1870, and her platform included women’s right to the political vote and equality, as well as supporting an 8-hour workday and the elimination of the death penalty. She was a candidate for the Equal Rights Party. While Ulysses S. Grant would take to the office instead, Woodhull was indeed pushing the limits of women in the political arena.
It was a historical moment when Shirley Chisholm was elected to the U.S. Congress. Why? She was the first African American woman to do so. The year was 1968. She would go on to represent the 12th Congressional District of New York in the House of Representatives until 1983. This was a first that pushed the glass ceiling of politics. The congresswoman was a strong supporter of equal education and human rights. She ultimately left Congress after seven terms to teach.
This social activist would then go on to make a bit for the position of U.S. President in 1972, as a Democrat. She was the first black female candidate to do so on behalf of a major party and also the first women to run for the Democratic nomination for the top job as the American President. Shirley Chisholm founded the Congressional Black Caucus, which represents black members of Congress. While she was well-known in the ’60s and ’70s, unfortunately, few people likely recognize her name today. Let’s not forget her achievements!
Sonia Sotomayor is a trailblazer as the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in the United States. This historical event occurred in 2009; the then President Barack Obama nominated her. This nomination was confirmed by a 68-31 vote. Sonia Sotomayor’s legal career began when she graduated from Yale and passed the bar in 1980, working as a U.s. District Court Judge, and then as a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge.
She also made history with groundbreaking Supreme Court rulings. The first historical decision was in 2015 for King v. Burwell, where she was one of six Justices who upheld a key part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, in turn maintaining the government’s ability to continue giving subsidies to those in the use who bought health care through “exchanges.” While on the term, Sonia Sotomayor is recognized for her passionate calls to change the criminal justice system, as well as speaking up on issues of gender, race, and ethnicity. She helped extend the glass ceiling of politics a bit further.
She was affectionately nicknamed Gerry. Geraldine Ferraro was the first female of a major party to run for the vice presidential nomination in the U.S. House of Representatives. The year was 1984, and she was running within the Democratic Party on the same ticket as Walter Mondale. She was a women’s rights activist, and there were few women at this point in U.S. Congress. She was also the first Italian-American to run on the national ticket as part of a major party.
In the end, the Reagan-Bush ticket defeated the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in the 1984 election. But N.Y. Democrat Geraldine Ferraro went on to serve three terms in the House of Representatives. When she ran for the Senate in 1998, this was her second time in six years to do so. When she failed again, it was also her last campaign. It is likely that her advancements made it easier for future women running for political positions.
This activist, teacher, lawyer, and author is perhaps most widely recognized for her testimony against Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court Justice. Anita Hill worked for him in the Office of Civil Rights, within the United States Department of Education, and also later on for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When confirmation hearings occurred as part of the process of appointing Thomas to the Supreme Court, Anita Hill was called to court. It was there that she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Anita Hill spoke before the court about Clarence Thomas sexually harassing her. The committee ultimately did not take her words into account toward its decision to appoint Thomas. But Hall’s televised testimony in 1991 was seen by people across America. Today it is well known for opening up conversations about workplace inequality and discrimination. Amazingly, Hill never lost her cool during the grueling questioning for almost nine hours by 14 white U.S. senators.
Like her or hate her, she had to make the list. Hillary Clinton pushed the glass ceiling of politics by running for the United States President twice – first in 2008 and then in 2016. She became an essential in the Democratic party. But, you say, she lost both times. Aha, but that’s not where the wins lay. It is instead that she was fearless about standing up to Congress Republicans and the Republican nominee. And this was in addition to her co-founding Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the first woman to be a full partner at Rose Law Firm in Arkansas in the 1970s.
And don’t forget Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments as U.S. First Lady (1993-2001). She was the first First Lady to suggest employers provide health-care coverage to their workers in 1993, for example. And, in late 2000, she took office as a senator; she was the first First Lady to do so. Hillary Clinton, as the 67th U.S. Secretary of State, advanced the relations that Bush’s administration messed with and as a strong voice for women. She also advocates for the LGBT community.
Can We Break the Glass Ceiling of Politics?
Thank you to these female trailblazers and countless others! They’ve extended the glass ceiling of politics in the U.S. to enable women to take on more opportunities in this arena. But, I still contend there is a glass ceiling. Female candidates still get judgement for how they look and the state of their marriage. One person might think, heaven forbid she’s divorced, that won’t help her campaign. Of course this thought has nothing to do with her ability to lead. And perhaps all of those personal attacks on Hillary Clinton has made some women think twice about wanting to be a political candidate.
BUT we cannot stop continuing to try to break that glass ceiling of politics, ladies. U.S. politics developed over a long time and its structure is often simply taken for “it is what it is.” But I think affirmative action can still make a difference over time and we must not stop these types of actions. Let’s encourage one another to go beyond what has been done before, as the women listed above have done, by producing campaigns that inspire girls to take on roles as confident leaders. This is a way to evoke change for the better!