Political pioneer Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first woman of any race to seek the nomination of a political party for the office of President of the United States, died on Saturday at her home in Florida the age of 80. The slogan of her many campaigns, “Unbought and Unbossed,” said it all. Chisholm challenged the system and fought for women’s rights and civil rights. She would accept no artificial boundaries of sex or race.
Chisholm was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1964 and to Congress in 1968 representing Brooklyn, New York until 1982. Chisholm an expert on early education and child welfare, introduced and fought for passage of a massive childcare bill in Congress, together with Congresswoman Bella Abzug. The bill unfortunately was vetoed by President Nixon, while serving as director of a nursery school in Brooklyn. In 1964, Chisholm ran for and won a seat in the New York State Assembly, and in 1968 successfully ran for Congress to represent Brooklyn’s 12th Congressional District.
According to the New York Daily News, Chisholm hired an all-female staff and became known in Washington, DC for being honest and outspoken. She fought for powerful committee assignments where she could have the most impact, such as the Veterans Affairs, Education, and Labor Committees.
Chisholm, together with Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan, co-convened the founding conference of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. In 1972, Chisholm became the first African-American woman to run for President for a major party. Though she lost to George McGovern in the Democratic primaries, she inspired a generation of young women to seek higher political office. She was endorsed in her candidacy by the local chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW). In Pittsburgh alone, the local NOW held a rally for Chisholm to a standing room only crowd of more than 5,000 people. “As a young feminist leader in Pittsburgh, her speeches were inspiring,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who was a local NOW activist during Chisholm’s run for President. “She was such a powerful speaker that, despite her lisp, she was received by numerous standing ovations. I remember the audience leaping out of their chairs repeatedly during her speeches.”