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This is backstory. I'm Peter Onuf. Tonight we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union. The first time that a major party has dominated a woman or president. In Philadelphia, Hillary Rodham Thinton moved one step closer to becoming the first female president of the United States. Clinton stands on the shoulders of generations of women who fought for the right to vote. But even before they won that right in 1920, women found ways to influence politics. In the spring of 1863, a Confederate woman led a hungry mob of several hundred demanding bread or blood. She told these women, to come tomorrow, we're going to have a riot, you'll need a babysitter, and come armed. From Dolly Madison's parlor politics to other women who sought the White House. A history of women and politics today on backstory. Major funding for backstory is provided by the ShiaCon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
From the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. This is backstory. With the American History Guys. Welcome to the show. I'm Brian Ballot, and I'm here with Ed Ayers. Hey Brian, and Peter Onifs with us. Hey there Brian. We're going to start today in 1920 in the scenic town of Jackson, Wyoming known today as Jackson Hole. A very small town of about 350 people nestled in a mountain valley, and so it's absolutely gorgeous. This is Sherry Smith. She's a historian at Southern Methodist University and a resident of Moose, Wyoming. That's near Jackson. Smith says that in 1920, Jackson wasn't so gorgeous. The streets were full of mud, and the town square was full of garbage, and place was frankly a mess. It had no sewage system, no streetlights, no official cemetery, and barely any money in the town coffers. This disrepair prompted the residents to call a meeting with the town's elected officials.
But the problem was the men who had been in office didn't want to be in office anymore, so they were not interested in running and responding to these demands for some change in the town. Government in such a small town was a part-time job, and the men in charge made it clear that Jackson's problems were a distraction from their real jobs. Things like running ranches, restaurants, and hotels. That didn't go over well with a group of women at the gathering. Apparently somebody in the crowd hearing the women who were quite outspoken about their concerns said, well, why don't we have the women run and have the women do this? And partly it was probably a joke, but some of the women there said, yeah, you know, not a bad idea. This was a time when few women held elected office anywhere in the country, but a group of Jackson women ran for all the council seats and even mayor. The women ran on a simple platform to literally clean up the streets. It was an effective message. Voters swept this group of women into office.
By the end of 1920, all of Jackson's elected officials were women. Then they set about appointing women to nearly every public job in town, including town Marshall. She was like five foot to tell you little thing she did carry a revolver with the pearl handle. The news of a woman run town quickly spread across the country. It was an irresistible blend of the old Wild West and a new type of America that was just emerging. Smith singles out an article that ran in the LA Times. Jackson's whole broke into print many times in early days through its running fights, revolver, duels, and thrilling escapes. This time, the trouble was merely a battle of ballots between men and women and the thrilling escape consisted of the men's deliverance from the horrors of trying to run a small town government. But there was another reason the story made national news in 1920.
Americans were consumed by the question of whether the 19th amendment would be ratified, finally granting all women the right to vote. The news papers tended to treat Jackson's election as amusing or, at the very least, a novelty to smith these news stories show how uncomfortable many Americans were with the idea of women in charge. Jackson was, if only jokingly, a cautionary tale. But in Jackson, the election didn't represent a political watershed or a grand endorsement of the suffrage movement. It wasn't even particularly newsworthy for very long. Take this diary entry from one of the elected officials, Genevieve Van Vleck. On Monday, May 10th, she wrote Roy, her husband, painted the kitchen. On Tuesday, May 11th, village election, men furious. Wednesday, May 12th, Roy paged the bathroom and the pantry. In the end, the women of Jackson turned out to be remarkably effective administrators.
They collected back taxes, graded the roads, cleaned up the town square, and organized trash collection. But Smith says that same pragmatism is what prompted the women to walk away from politics once they got the job done. The women themselves, finally, did not see themselves as people who set out to break down barriers. Their purpose was to make town improvement, the centerpiece of government here. They achieved that in a couple of years, and then they were happy to step back and let men take over again, which is exactly what happened. In fact, the next time a woman was elected mayor of Jackson was in 2001. What to make of that 80-year gap between Jackson's first and second female mayors? Smith says it shows that in American political history, the role of women evolves, but often unpredictably. So when you look at any social movement, there are periods when there seems to be progress.
But then there are moments when, after victories, people kind of pull back. So it's not this arc of constant progression, but kind of forward and backward, forward and backward. So today on the show, we're going to look at the twist and turns of women in politics. We'll visit a raucous parade for suffrage down Washington, D.C.'s main avenue in 1913. We'll also explore why millions of women still couldn't vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. And we'll look at how the first African American woman to run for president paved the way for the next generation. But first, let's travel back to America's founding, long before women could run for office or vote. Even so, the wives of elite politicians played a crucial role in politics. Here's why. The fellows who founded the United States strongly believed they had to embody what they called Republican virtue. That basically meant putting the interests of the Republic above self-interest.
So no favors for friends or political supporters, no behind-the-scenes lobbying. This was a radical idea in the 1770s. The way the founders saw it, if they didn't act the part of proper Republicans, their new form of government would fail. Historian Catherine Al Gore says there was just one problem. The founding fathers had no role models. They had only been new Americans for about 15 minutes. They'd been British colonists before that. And the only ways they could really understand the world were British. And the only vocabulary of power they have is aristocracy. Yet they couldn't be seen as doing anything even remotely aristocratic, which Al Gore says often meant that they couldn't do their jobs. And what ended up happening in Washington is that as the official men of the government struggled to retain their pure Republican virtue, the women of their families took over all of those dirty tasks of politicking that were borrowed from the monarchy. Women are virtuous. I've been taught. Aren't they virtuous in your period as well? Is there a difference between female virtue and this Republican virtue you're talking about?
Yes, Republican virtue is definitely about public ruling. And women, for their part, their virtue was in supporting men's work. And I think that's something important too to say about this period. That when we're talking about women, quote, being political or being politically active, they're not working for suffrage. They're not working for equal rights. They are working for their husband's politics. They're family's politics. So here's an example. The most hated monarchical practice is patronage. So remember, there's no job application process in the royal court. It was really who you knew and who could help you. And you can see why the founding fathers at least in theory thought this was just the worst, most representative practice of the old world. And one that needed to be taken out root and branch. Unfortunately, as it turns out, patronage is something that budding democracies and baby republics need. And the great example of that is John Adams, who in his quest to be the perfect Republican, kept all of his predecessors cabinet and they all turned against him like dogs.
So we need patronage in the early republic. We need to make those connections to develop a ruling class to connect the capital city to the hinterlands to create political careers. And yes, the dirty work of patronage fell to women. Now, can we think of a nicer way to put that Catherine that is women would be associated with a nurturing role with affection with warmth. Could they play the family card? And that would seem like the natural thing for a good woman to do. Yes. So let's characterize patronage not as dirty but necessary for nation building as it turned out to be. And the women of the early republic, they develop a language, a vernacular, a femininity in which to basically influence petal. And if you're not a careful reader of the sources, you might find correspondence between two women and they seem to be talking about health, love, family, illness, all of those personal things.
But with a good read, you realize that somebody's asking for a job and somebody's getting a job using this language, a femininity. So you broke the code, Catherine. I am the Alan Turing of women's history. Yes. And nobody embodies that more than my favorite first lady. And I hope yours, Peter, Dolly Madison. I wouldn't argue about that. Give us an example of how this actually works. How do I play this game? Dolly is always a great example of the patronage machine, how it worked. She had a close friend from her Philadelphia days named Anthony Morris. And she was not only close to him but close to his daughter Phoebe. And at some point, Anthony Morris, who stuck out in Bolton, Pennsylvania, wants a government position. So he writes President Madison, who he knows who Dolly, a rather formal letter talking about wanting to take a position.
But then he writes Dolly. And he talks to Dolly about needing a change of scene. Why? Because his children need to get out of Bolton. And he talks about concerns for their health. And also that they're not meeting the right kind of people that they might marry. And she's a mother and an old friend. And surely she understands it. And this is a great letter, Peter, because it shows that like many other men, Anthony Morris has learned the language. And Dolly replies. And she too talks about darling Phoebe and her desire to get Phoebe out into the world. And then a few months later, we find out that Anthony Morris has been appointed a special embassy to Spain. And so he's suddenly with Phoebe on a boat going to Spain. So it's bringing those two worlds together, the domestic and the political that's really critical to the functioning of this politics. It's politics of the heart. It's important to note, though, Dolly was without question a powerful political force in Washington. But she would have been horrified to be accused of being what they call pedicote politicians.
It's a funny thing about the work of political women of this time. It only exists undercover. Yes, Dolly, why Anthony Morris got this job? She would say, well, he was very qualified, but didn't he write to you? Oh, yes, but we're just friends. I'm just concerned about his health. So the politics of women operated in a kind of culture of denial. And the women themselves denied it, even as they were quite obvious about what they were doing. But you have to understand that the power of women's world lies in its unconsidered nature. So Catherine, you've brilliantly reconstructed this world of women's political activity and influence. When and why did it go away? Women's history is full of paradox and it shows us that American history is not progressive. So the sort of heyday of this kind of parlor politicking, especially in Washington, DC, comes to an end in the late 1820s. So around the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency, that era we call it the rise of the common man and it's celebrated as a watershed of democracy.
This is when more and more white men are given the chance to vote. And that's seen in our minds as Americans is a very good thing. But what that meant was that women would become increasingly excluded from the political process. So think about it. When the majority of people men and women couldn't vote, there are lots of ways to be politically influential. You could boycott, you could mob, you could petition. But as men then suddenly were getting the vote, all of these other ways are not nearly as effective. So if I'm a politically powerful woman in the 1790s, my correlate in the 1840s isn't. And so pretty soon, women figured out that they would also need the vote in order to be politically active Americans. Catherine Al Gore is the director of education at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. She's the author of Parlor Politics in which the ladies of Washington helped build a city and a government.
Earlier, we heard from Sherry Smith, a historian at Southern Methodist University. So guys, Catherine Al Gore's parlor politicians were elite women who had access to elite men. That wasn't an opportunity open to most women. And particularly when the doors close of those parlor, where do they go and what do women do? How do they affect politics? Yeah, Peter, but not everybody had a parlor. And those women who didn't as well as some of those who did decided to participate in politics in ways that didn't go through their husbands at all. They started organizing reform organizations, joining abolitionist societies and so forth. So it's what's amazing to me is how quickly we pivoted from this deferential kind of hierarchical model that Catherine talks about to that more participatory model. I have to explain that.
That's from a pretty narrow sense of what politics entails. These are women who associate together to take the high ground and make changes in the world at large from slavery to temperance to world peace. Yeah, they're building a lot of times on the missionary impulses and their churches, which kind of validates women's efforts to make the world better. And that pattern continues throughout the late 19th century and the 20th century and the early 20th century. It's women providing social services because the state isn't supposed to do that. And by the 1960s, it's women being the foot soldiers in large social movements, like the civil rights movement, where especially in the south, we have Jim Crow segregation. The state isn't going to intervene, but these women do and they do it in the tens of thousands. So Brian, would you say that organizing women are anticipating future legislation? This is deep politics, you might say, to set a new agenda, a more capacious agenda. Absolutely. I think they're saying politics, the formal political system, that doesn't begin to deal with all of the issues that are really about power.
So women are excluded from politics early on before women's suffrage is finally recognized, but they're also drawing attention to the things that are excluded from politics. They're also anticipating equal protection of the laws actually being carried out across the nation. And precisely because women are advancing the vision of what the state could be and what we might do for each other this way, they run into opposition at every step of the way of this story. And that opposition suggests that you need direct political power. You need to be in politics. So these things come together, the vision and the practice making a new politics. So Brian, Peter, and talking about women in politics, one thing that everybody would know is that women during the Civil War era, during wartime, simply didn't have political power.
And especially in the South, where there weren't even the stirrings of a woman's suffrage movement. But in the spring of 1863, white women across the Confederacy did something truly unexpected. They rioted. Now, we should make it clear that these women weren't protesting war or slavery. They simply did not have enough to eat. Here's what happened by the second winner of the Civil War, white women throughout the Confederacy could not feed their families because most able-bodied white males were in the Confederate army. There's not even teenage sons left on these farms. This is historian Stephanie McCurry. She says that at first these soldiers wives wrote letters to state and local officials begging for help. McCurry discovered hundreds of these letters and here's one written by North Carolina woman in 1863. We have seen the time when we could call our little children and our husbands to our tables and have a plenty. And now we have become beggars and starvers and no way to help ourselves.
And then she said that she and the other soldiers wives could not do enough field work to get subsistence from the land. Sometimes in the same letter, it would start out like as a begging letter and then it would turn angry in the middle. We will have bread or blood. And they minute. In March and April of 1863, mobs of white women broke into stores and government warehouses across the Confederacy to steal food and what were known as bread riots. There were more than a dozen of these uprisings from Mobile, Alabama and Salisbury, North Carolina up to Petersburg, Virginia. The biggest riot took place in the capital of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia on April 2, 1863. Around 9 o'clock in the morning, a clerk in the government office, John Jones, who left this amazing diary, describes being pulled to his window by the sound of these women, about 300 women, with another crowd of men and boys behind them. And he said, totaling about a thousand people, they converge on particular merchants and they demand, they sort of interview the merchants, they say, how much is bacon a pound?
And the guy says, you know, well, it's a dollar 20 a pound and they say, how can women in our position pay a dollar 20 a pound for bacon? You need to give it to us at government prices and he says no and then they break down the door. And they begin this basically four hour riot in the warehouse district or the warp district of Richmond. And they threw men off of wagons in the street to commandeer the wagons to haul off the loot. They took out seized a huge amount of stuff. They've seen people may know that Richmond is the capital of the Confederacy. You would have thought they would have had some soldiers there or something. Why did they look this rage for four hours? Why didn't they try to nip this in the bud? They did eventually put this thing down by force. They called out troops to put down this riot and then a lot of them were arrested. Confederate officials were puzzled by how well organized these riot scene. The leading Richmond newspaper offered the standard explanation. Men did it or even Yankee conspirators had put these women up to it. But in Richmond, the trial records provided some clues to the contrary.
When they get into court, they find out that this is not the work of men or Yankee operatives. It's the work of a one woman, Mary Jackson, a hawkster and meat at the city market. And the night before the riot, she called a meeting of 300 town and country women. Some of them from as far as 11 miles away, people she had recruited. And they had a meeting in the Belvedere Baptist Church. She got up into the pulpit so you know how acceptable that was. And she kind of rallied her troops and she told these women that they were going to organize themselves. They were going to behave peaceably. They were going to explain their reasons, but that they were to come tomorrow and they were to leave their children at home. That is to say we're going to have a riot. You'll need a babysitter and come armed. More than 70 Richmond rioters were put on trial. Many were fined or sent to prison, although Mary Jackson, the ringleader, was not. Despite the clamp down in Richmond, the riots had a positive outcome for women.
They forced officials throughout the Confederacy to pay attention to the needs of civilians, not just soldiers. First of all, they started to return food from the army to the worst hit counties. So they gave back food that they had seized by the tax and kind. They created food relief programs that the welfare policy and the Confederacy expanded enormously. And they allowed county relief officials to buy corn at government prices, which is what the women had wanted in the first place. So I think that if people were imagining places in the United States where women were likely to be depoliticized, it might have been in the Confederacy. You know, southern ladyhood and all that sort of stuff. And yet we have here one of the most visible and in some ways effective rebellions of women in Nazi Central America coming out of the South. You think it's mainly a condition that they were put in such conditions that they had no choice? Did this have a southern accent in any way? Absolutely. This is desperation.
But you know, people can just lie down and die in moments of desperation. And these women got up and fought back. And they fought back and see sort of forced officials to answer to them. Like you took our men, you promised to protect us. Now you better act. So the fact that these women who have no legs to stand on no ground on which they can think of themselves as citizens of the nation with rights that are being violated. None of that is within their grasp. And yet still, when the government forces them into this really intimate relationship with them, it starts to take their husbands and their sons and their food, people respond. What that suggests is that this grass roots rebellion had very direct results in what people do think of as politics and the public policy of the state. So that's, I mean, it's hard to imagine they could have gotten those results in any other way rather than threatening to burn things down. It's just so fascinating, I think, and so moving in a human sense to recognize that when we go into the archives and dig around, we find these unexpected things. Exactly.
And one of them is that no matter how many times we're told and the history we read is really men do this and men do that. I mean, really, it's quite outrageous. You get the 21st century and you can still basically write a history of the world without any women in it. It infuriates me. There is lots of evidence of how women made history. And I think this is a great example of that. It's like a rip in history. And that's, I think, why historians write so much about wars, because wars create conditions of rapid change. They also leave records. Stephanie McCurry is a historian at Columbia University, an author of Confederate reckoning, power and politics in the Civil War South. We're going to turn now to a more conventional political struggle, the right to vote. In 1848, the historic women's rights convention at Seneca Falls included suffrage in its declaration of rights.
But progress on that front was slow. By the early 20th century, only a handful of states had actually granted women's suffrage. A federal constitutional amendment granting all women the vote seemed out of reach. In 1912, a splinter group of the National American Women's Suffrage Association, or NASA, decided to push for suffrage on a national level instead of state by state. The leader of that group was Alice Paul, a suffragist trained in so-called militant tactics, such as hunger strikes. In 1913, Paul organized a parade. That might not seem like an extreme measure now, but it was at the time. Respectable white middle class American women simply did not march in the street. But Alice Paul wanted to shake things up, and she wanted to be seen. She convinced NASA leaders to allow her to organize a parade on the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.
This is Alice Paul biographer Jill Zonizer. There would be many, many people in Washington already for the inaugural festivities. So the nation's eyes would be on Washington DC at this time. Paul fought to secure a permit to march down America's corridor of power, Pennsylvania Avenue, which connected the Capitol and the White House. On March 3rd, 1913, after months of strenuous effort in the face of opposition, 5,000 women gathered for the peaceful march. But it didn't stay peaceful for long. Zonizer provides the snapshot of the day's drama, with testimony from suffragists in attendance. They were very conscious of providing a spectacle, so this parade started off with women on horseback. And the woman Inez Mill Holland, known as the most beautiful suffragist. Washington Post, March 3rd, 1913. The arrival of Miss Mill Holland, the beautiful society girl of New York, gave complete support to the claim of the suffragist that some of the most beautiful women in the country are active in the equal rights cause.
She led off the parade with the other horsewomen draped in a blue cloak wearing a kind of a helmet that was gold on a white charger, shades of Joan of Arc here, who was very much a hero for many suffragists. So it started off with horses and Inez Mill Holland. There were seven sections of the parade, and each section was designed to have different costumes. And then the floats came to provide color and spectacle during the parade. A kaleidoscopic picture of ever-shifting color, beautiful women posing in classic robes passed in a bewildering array presenting an irresistible appeal to the artistic, and completely captivating the hundred thousand spectators who struggled for a view along the entire route. Washington Post, March 4th.
The parade started on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and even as they were getting organized, it became apparent that the police protection was already breaking down. Although short wire ropes had been stretched up and down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue, the enormous crowd that gathered early to obtain points of vantage overstepped them or crawled beneath. With the result that when the parade started, it faced at almost every hundred yards a solid wall of humanity. Washington Post, March 4th. And they won a few blocks, and then it became clear that it was going to be very difficult to go on further, because the police were not successfully holding back thousands and thousands of spectators, many of whom were there for the inaugural festivities for the week. I said to a policeman, a tremendous big man who could have moved almost any kind of crowd. Officer, there are nearly two thousand women back of us walking five abreast, and you can push these lines back.
He deliberately folded his arms and said, I cannot do nothing with this crowd, and I ain't gonna try. And he began to pick his teeth. The crowd laughed when he made this reply to me, and I looked straight ahead. I thought the only thing to do was to march on. And women began to hear insults. Some of the male spectators began to touch them, to push against them, to shout at them, tell them to go back home, what were they doing there? This woman put her hand out and brushed back this drunken German man, and as she did, he had some tobacco juice in his mouth, and he spat it right on her forehead, and it ran down her face. I asked the policeman, would he not please protect this woman? And he said, there would be nothing like this happen if you would stay at home. So some women were just frightened out of their minds. Other women marching were energized, really, feeling that they had a right to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, protesting for their rights, demanding their rights.
There's a great quote from one woman who told the other woman to get out their hat pins, and to use those as weapons against anyone who approached them too closely. Another man broke into the parade and almost tore a girl's coat from her back. I heard him make a very ugly remark to a woman in front of me. He prepared to say something to me, but as he opened his mouth, my baton accidentally struck him in the mouth. I think his teeth went down because he gulped a great deal. I haven't yet heard what he was going to say. And that was the moment when the women leading the parade realized that everything really was falling apart in front of them. And then the cavalry was called... In two lines, the troops charged the crowds, evidently realizing they would be ridden down, the mobs fought their way back. When they hesitated, the cavalrymen drove their horses into the throngs and whirled and wheeled until hooting men and women were forced to retreat, Los Angeles Times.
In the short stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between 11th and 15th streets, more than 30 women and girls were taken out of the press to the emergency hospital in a fainting condition in less than an hour. Chicago Daily Tribune. Some of the people who participated in the parade who happened to be congressmen began to call for a congressional investigation. A hearing was held in which spectators and some of the women marching in the parade could tell their stories. Ironically, this became an enormous opportunity to put suffrage, women suffrage on the front page for days and days and days nearly for a month because of the hearing. So it might have been a disaster turned into a great opportunity. It put women suffrage back on the map. There had been really not a whole lot happening before 1910 but the national splash of the 1913 parade.
That really reinvigorated the suffrage movement from almost nothing happening for a federal amendment to the Constitution was achieved in 1920. So 1913 and the introduction of Alice Paul into the movement with the 1913 parade is really the beginning of the end. Jill Zoniser is the author of Alice Paul Claiming Power. We're going to turn out to a question from one of our listeners. It was prompted by Mimi Saul online. Neil, welcome to the show. Hi, thanks for having me on.
Okay, tell us a little bit about this meme. So I received a meme across my Facebook page and it begins with a CNN tweet. The states that 96 years after women won the right to vote a woman could win the White House. The tweet is embedded in another tweet that states Native American women couldn't vote until 1924 Asian women couldn't vote until 1952. And Black women couldn't vote until 1964. And I was wondering what is the truth of that? So we have a CNN tweet that refers to the 19th amendment, the amendment that granted women the right to vote in 1920. Then another tweet rebuts the CNN tweet listing later years that different minority women got the vote. Native American women in 1924 Asian American women in 1952 and African American women in 1964. Well, Neil, I have someone on the line here who can help us entangle all of this. Let me introduce you to Robin Muncie, a historian from the University of Maryland.
Robin, welcome to the show. Thank you so much, delighted to be here. So let's start with the first part of this meme, the CNN tweet. Quote, 96 years after women won the right to vote a woman could win the White House. Now, if we were going to tweet back an answer to this, what would be the short version? I know we're going to unpack each clause of it just being backstory and fully understanding things. But what would be the quick answer to that meme? I love this meme, not because it gets everything right, but because it does point to a profound truth about the history of women's suffrage, which is that even after the passage of the 19th amendment, millions of American women still were barred from the polls. So Neil, you were right to be confused by this and it's an even larger scale than we would have thought. So now we're going to ask Robin to unpack each one of these clauses and help us understand really what's going on. Part two of the meme, Native American women couldn't vote until 1924.
Is that true, Robin? In part, in 1924, Congress passed the Snyder Act, and that act made all Native Americans citizens. But being a citizen did not guarantee you voting rights. Still, the states had it in their power to exclude people from the polls on a lot of different bases. So what was very common in places like Ogash, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota. In many states, Native Americans were still barred from the polls, both men and women, by arguments that said, for instance, that because they lived on reservations, they weren't really residents of the state. And those laws remained on the books in some states into the 40s and even into the 1950s. But so it was still decades after 1924 that many Native Americans were still fighting for the right to vote in their states. So Neil, what I hear here is that this clause of the meme has even greater weight than we thought. Oh, absolutely.
This is stuff my history teacher never taught me. But I believe that there's still other parts of this meme we still have to explain, right Neil? Yes. The second part of the meme was that Asian women couldn't vote until 1952. So what I think, Robin, is this true? It's partly true. Asian descended women who were born in the U.S. could vote. But Asian immigrant women were largely excluded from the polls because they were excluded from citizenship until 1952, when the McCarran Walters Act dropped the bar so that Asian immigrants could naturalize, that could become citizens and thereby gain access to the polls. So this is true, but it also applies to men at the same immigrant background as well. Absolutely. So we'll give that a largely true ranking. But Neil, there's even more after this, right? What's the next and the last part of the meme? So the last part of the meme states that black women couldn't vote until 1964.
Is it true? No, not quite. African American women in the North and the West were able to vote in their states at the same time that the majority of women in those states were admitted to the franchise. So in 1911, when women in California are given the vote, black women voted in California. It's African American women in the South who were excluded in the early 20th century and through much of the 20th century, by the same means that African American men were excluded by. Those included things like the poll tax, unfairly administered literacy tests, brute violence and economic reprisals from employers. And that kept African American women in the South from the polls in large part until 1964 and 1965. In 1964, the ratification of an amendment to the Constitution that banned the poll tax. And then in 1965, of course, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which made literacy tests illegal and also extended all kinds of protections to language minority groups, which helped Asian immigrant women and men as well. So that's very helpful.
If you were giving this meme a grade, what would you assign it, Robin? For spirit and A plus. For facts, I'm afraid it would have to be a C plus or B minus. You like the spirit of this and A plus. What's the spirit behind this that you like so much about this? I think it is really important to recognize that women are discriminated against on many bases other than sex. And then if we really care about the well-being and empowerment and freedom of women, then we have to be worried about all the bases on which women are excluded from something like the vote. You know, I think that sounds like a meme in and of itself. Thanks so much to both of you, Neil, for initiating this conversation and Robin for actually answering these very hard questions. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Robin Mency is a historian at the University of Maryland College Park and the author of Read Lentless Reformer, Josephine Roche, and progressivism in 20th century America. If you've got a question for us, don't be a stranger.
Leave comments at or tweet us at backstoryradio. There's been a lot of talk about the 1964 election these days. That's when conservative senator Barry Goldwater verison shocked the nation by winning the GOP nomination for president. Many have compared Goldwater's quick ascent to Donald Trump's. 1964, as it turns out, was also the year a Republican woman ran for president. Margaret Chase Smith, a senator from Maine, made it all the way to the party's convention. The podcast Radio Diaries recently ran this piece about our campaign. The farthest any woman had gotten in major party politics up to that point. There are those who make the contention that no woman should ever dare to aspire to the White House. But this is a man's world and that it should be kept that way. My name is Janaine Sherman and I wrote the book No Place for a Woman, a Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith.
My name is Merton Henry and in 1964 I work on the Margaret Chase Smith presidential campaign. Margaret Chase Smith was born in the little town in central Maine called Scowhegan. Her mother struggled working in the shoe factory, working as a waitress and so forth. So it was not an easy life and I think that was the basis for a lot of Margaret's ambition that she didn't want to end up like her mother had. She had better ideas for herself. She was the first woman ever elected to the Senate in her own right. She was very much a middle of the road Republican who really followed her own instincts on things. She definitely was seen by 1964 as a hawk. It does not pay to play footsie with the communist. She was probably the only woman in 1964 that had the stature to be a serious candidate for president. It is contended that I should not run for president because the odds are too heavily against me for even the most remote chance of victory.
In January 1964, Margaret Chase Smith was scheduled to make a regular speech to the Women's Press Club. Third, it is contended that as a woman, I would not have the physical stamina and strength to run. So because of these very impaling reasons against my running, I have decided that I shall. So that was the opening shot. Margaret. Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman to announce the serious bid for the White House, who will enter the New Hampshire presidential primary on March 10th. She campaigned in Illinois. She campaigned some in Oregon.
She campaigned in small towns before rotary clubs. She drove both places by car. She would not accept campaign contributions, so she had no money. No poll workers, no buttons, no bumper stickers. Goldwater and Rockefeller, her opponents were both millionaires, so I think she decided to take the moral high ground by saying you don't have to be a millionaire to be president of the United States. From Washington, D.C., Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Republican of Maine, will face the nation. She tried to get people to pay attention to her record, what she had done of substance, not the fact that she was a woman. But of course, she was constantly asked that. I mean, it's the very first thing that people see. Senator Smith, not all countries have the same attitudes towards women as the United States. How do you think a woman in president of the United States would make out an international conferences and those so-called nose-to-nose meetings? Well, I would remind you that once there was Catherine the Great, I would remind you that there was Queen Victoria.
I would also call your attention to Mr. Kruchef's references to me through the years. When he called me an Amazon warmonger, hiding behind a rose. How do you think you would make out an kitchen confrontation with Mr. Kruchef? Well, I wouldn't care to estimate that if it was making blueberry muffins, I probably would win. We are well aware of that, so I'm having to sample them. She was always having to walk that tightrope between being strong enough and tough enough to be commanded chief to run a country. But still feminine enough and ladylike enough because being feminine was absolutely essential. And so she tried to balance it the best way she knew how. She was always meticulously dressed. She was very careful about her appearance and everything. She would tell time magazine that nothing clears her mind like vacuuming or posed with a mixing bowl or crimping in a mirror that was a favorite.
Senator Smith had a campaign song called Leave It To The Girls. With a response from the press, it was not pretty. One of the pundits said that a woman could be president just as long as she didn't act like one. The press never treated her as if she had a realistic shot at it. Good afternoon. This is the Republican National Convention at the Cal Palais in San Francisco. Before this day is out, the nominee of the Republican Party will have been determined. I am now proud and honored to nominate the senior senator from the Great Republican State of Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith. You know, she knew at that point that she was not going to give the nomination to say the least. Goldwater had the nomination pretty much slowed up.
And there it is. Senator Barry Goldwater is the Republican Party's nominee for the presidency of the United States. The standard is, if you're the loser and you don't have enough delegates to swing it, well then you very graciously release your delegates to vote for other candidates. But Senator Smith never released them. And the total of the 27 votes that she got on the floor she hung onto, denying Barry Goldwater the unanimous vote for the nomination. So she came in second. The tumult and the shouting has died. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the lady for Maine, has emerged from her precedent-breaking bid for the presidency with even greater stature and reputation. Let's get her out of this. You made some history. Well, we're lady and being the first woman ever nominated. Yes, it's quite a satisfaction today to think about it. Why do it at all? People run because they want to prove a point. They run because they want to make a statement.
They run because they've got an oversized deco or something. There are all sorts of reasons that people run for president, even though they may know they have little chance of winning. Her reason was to prove that a woman could be a serious presidential candidate. And she did. She proved it. No one allowed for Margaret. Will we see a woman elected president of the United States during our lifetime? Perhaps not so while the dream? The world is changing rapidly. Politics changed with it. Many of the once impossible things have happened. Time alone will tell if a woman will someday break the tradition that only men can hold that off. All over for Margaret and will win, win, win. That piece was produced by Joe Richmond and Samara Freemark. It came to us from the podcast Radio Diaries as part of the contender series. Profiles are the most original presidential candidates who never won the White House.
To hear more of these profiles, head to Margaret Chase Smith wouldn't be the last woman to seek a major party nomination for president. And no, we're not talking about Hillary Clinton. I spend before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States of America. This is Shirley Chisholm announcing her campaign in January of 1972. She was the first black woman to run for a major party nomination. Her campaign slogan was unbought and unbossed. Chisholm was already a seasoned politician. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Before that, she served in the New York State Assembly. She understood that her campaign for president was a long shot. Here she is speaking to students at UCLA in May of 1972. And in the very beginning, I, to be frank with you, I laughed because I was cognizant of the fact that being simultaneously a black person and a woman placed me in the position of being a part of two segments in America
who have never had any real roles to play in terms of the decision-making processes and policies that govern our lives. Chisholm's campaign encountered a number of roadblocks. Treated as a French candidate, she had a sue to be included in the televised national debates. She also survived multiple assassination attempts on the campaign trail. Although she didn't win the Democratic Party nomination, Chisholm's campaign is often cited as transformative, paving the way for both Barack Obama and this year's Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. We spoke with one politician who credits her career to Chisholm. U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee has represented a district near San Francisco since 1998. She first met Chisholm while attending Mills College in Oakland. At the time, Lee was so disillusioned with politics, she never even registered to vote.
And she was about to flunk out of a political science class that required students to volunteer for the 1972 presidential election. Nevertheless, as head of the African American Student Union, she invited Mrs. Chisholm to speak on campus. So I went up to her afterwards and I told her about my class and that I was about to flunk it, but after hearing her and meeting her, maybe I would reconsider. And she shook her finger at me and she really was very adamant and took me to task. You know, I had my big afro, my James A. T-shirt. She said, little girl. I mean, I was a grown woman then. I had two little kids. I was on public assistance and I was working with the Black Panther Party on the community programs. And I conscientiously said, no, I don't want to register to vote. No, I don't want to be part of this political system because I didn't think it worked for me. And so she took me to task. Tell me, I better register to voting. And if I really believed in what I was working for and talked about, then I needed to get involved politically. So I reluctantly told her, okay, I said, well, who do I contact? Cause I, you know, we'll try to pass this classmate. She said, my dear, I don't have a lot of national money. That's up to you to figure out.
So I talked a couple of friends and we figured it out and we ended up organizing Shirley Chisholm, Northern California campaign from my class at Mills College. I got an A in the class and went on to Miami as a delegate. Well, as a college professor, I'm going to take Vicarious pride in the fact that that was all triggered by a far-sighted college professor. So once you got into the campaign, what was it like to be a part of that? It was wonderful. I mentored me. She educated me, but also I learned how to organize. I organized fundraisers for her. I organized the office. I organized voter registration drives. I actually went to Huey Newton and Bobby Phil and talked to them about the importance of the Black Panther Party getting involved in political work. And so ended up organizing the Shirley Chisholm fundraisers at the apartment of Huey Newton and they endorsed Shirley Chisholm. And I was part of that old process. And so it was a very enlightening campaign. It was in many ways difficult because we did have to put together coalitions.
That's how I learned how to put together coalition politics, which then led to the first election of Lionel Wilson, our first African-American mayor in Oakland. None of this would have happened as I believe Barack Obama never would have been elected president had it not been for Shirley Chisholm. And of course the great Reverend Jesse Jackson paved the way. Now as you were doing all this inspiring work, did it bother you that you had a pretty good idea that Shirley Chisholm would not be the president of the United States? Well, I believe she would. That was my point. I really believe she would. And I just felt like given her leverage in what she was able to accomplish, I felt we had won anyway. You laid out the whole chain of things that you didn't think would have happened without Shirley Chisholm's campaign. Are you heartened by the general situation of women in politics today, people of color in politics? Or did you see a future back in those days that hasn't really come to pass?
No, I am heartened. I see progress not enough. We need more African-Americans elected to public office, more people of color, and more women. But you know, we have to really recognize this is a marathon. This requires institutional systemic change. But one thing about Shirley Chisholm, she said, you know, when you get on the inside, you got to shake things up. Don't go along to get along. You know, you got to change the rules of the game because they weren't made for you. They weren't written for you. She was very clear about reform and incrementalism was not going to really bring justice and equality to people. We had to really get in there and deal with the institutions and the biases that are so endemic in all of our public policies. When she famously said, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Do you think she'd still say that if she were running today? Well, I've heard that quote and read it several times, but it was, I won't say taking out a contest, but she talked about being an African-American and being a woman and what that meant, you know, in different instances. And I mean, I watched her because I came onto Washington and I saw how she had to address members of Congress.
She really had a tough time, but she just did tall and she kept going. You get a lot of courage. So you think that quote kind of pulls things apart that are really a part of the same thing, trying to weigh discrimination for being female and discrimination for being black. It's kind of a dead end way of thinking about this. Yeah, absolutely. As black women, you know, we have both loads to carry. And these are weights that we have to lift from our shoulders and we can only do that by fighting the system and changing things. So what would you say is her great legacy then? She was a catalyst for change and she was unbought and unbought, you know, and she was a progressive African-American woman. And I think most African-American women are progressive and can look to Shirley Chisholm as an icon and as a role model. Well, I know you have further shaking up to do this morning, so I'll let you go do that. Okay, well, I really appreciate that. I love Shirley Chisholm and if anyone comes to the Capitol, we were able to get a beautiful portrait of her placed in a very prominent place in the United States Capitol. Barbara Lee is a congresswoman from California and a former volunteer on Shirley Chisholm's 1972 campaign for president.
That's going to do it for today, but you can keep the conversation going on going. Let us know what you thought of this week's show. While you're there, ask us questions about our upcoming shows. We've got one on the history of the American work ethic and another that examines faith in the presidency. You'll find it all at or send an email to backstory at We're also on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Add backstory radio. Whatever you do, don't be a stranger. Backstories produced by Andrew Parsons, Bridget McCarthy, Nina Ernest, Kelly Cohn, Semligatic, and Ramona Martinez. Jamal Milner is our technical director, Diana Williams is our digital editor and the messages Mondia's are, researcher. We had help from Brandon Bond, Kenneth Worth. Special thanks this week to our readers, Carolyn D. Manellas, Lauren Ellens, Jane Gallagher, and Joseph Promfield.
Backstories produced at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Major supports provided by the ShiaCon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Tomato Fund, Cultivating Fresh Ideas and the Arts, the Humanities, and the Environment, and by History Channel. History made every day. Brian Ballow is Professor of History at the University of Virginia, and the Dorothy Compton Professor at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. Peter Onaf is Professor of History Emeritus at UVA, and Senior Research Fellow at Monicello. Ed Ayers is Professor of the Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Backstories was created by Andrew Wyndham for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Backstories is distributed by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.
You've Come a Long Way?: A History of Women in Politics
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Hillary Clinton moved a giant step closer to becoming the first woman elected President of the United States when she accepted the Democratic nomination at the party's convention in Philadelphia. Clinton stands on the shoulders of generations of women who fought for the right to vote. On this episode of BackStory, we look at the different ways women have influenced American politics, including: The bread riots by Confederate soldiers' wives, The 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C., Shirley Chisholm's historic 1972 presidential campaign.
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Chicago: “BackStory; You've Come a Long Way?: A History of Women in Politics,” 2016-00-00, BackStory, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
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