The Shattering of the Highest Glass Ceiling

This week Hillary Clinton made history when she became the first woman ever to receive the nomination for President of the United States from a major political party.

In 1872, fifty years before the ratification of the 19th amendment, and 136 years before Hillary Clinton launched her 2008 campaign, Victoria Woodhull ran to become America’s first female President, arguing that the male politicians in office were not representing the needs of women. When Election Day came, she couldn’t even vote for herself.

Since then Margaret Chase Smith, Shirley Chisholm, and Ellen McCormack have all received delegate votes at major party conventions, though none were able to shatter that highest glass ceiling.

The fight for political equality was fought and won by women who declared that their needs were not being advocated for in government because of their inability to vote in elections. Today, women make up the majority of the American electorate, but unfortunately, many of the issues that they cared about in the 19th century remain the same today.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, crafted the term The Gender Gap, the idea that women have different priorities than men when voting. “Women’s life experiences are driving their political views, just as the time of the suffragists,” said Smeal in a recent interview with Ms. Magazine. “The gender gap persists—and will persist—as long as women are discriminated against and their lives and opportunities differ so much from men’s. The longer we are ignored, the longer our viewpoints are given lesser weight than men’s, the greater the detriment to the nation and the world.”

In the second half of the 19th century, women’s rights and labor activists advocated for equal pay for equal work for women who were doing the same jobs as men. Today the gender pay gap stands at 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, it’s even worse; black women earn 61 percent of what white men make, and Latina women earn 55 percent.

Woodhull’s campaign for President was grounded in her belief that women have the right to “marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference.” So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, 35 percent of which sought to restrict access to abortion.

Woodhull also advocated for labor unions, workers’ rights, pay equity, childcare for working mothers, the end of domestic violence, better public education, welfare for the poor, and sex education in schools. Victoria Woodhull and other suffragists made women’s view point visible. Now, one hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, these are still the issues at the front of women’s minds as they head into the voting booth.

This November, for the first time ever, a goal of Woodhull and a long line of feminists will be realized, as a woman heads the top of a ticket.

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