Tag Archive: strong women


It’s Election Day and therefore, today seems like as good a day as any to share a few random facts and opinions about the history and role of women in U.S. politics.

(That clicking sound you hear is the sound of a handful of men all navigating away from this page at the same time.)

As I wrote on Women’s Equality Day, American women did not truly win the right to vote until 1920.  Before then, women could (and some were) put in jail simply for trying to exercise a right that we now all take  for granted.  Oddly enough, in most states, women could run for and hold public office.  They just couldn’t vote for themselves.

The first woman ever to be elected to any public office in the United States was Suzanna M. Salter who was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887.  She was 27 years old at the time.  She served as mayor for one term before retiring at the age of 29.  She lived to be 101 years old and never sought ran in another election.

Nellie Taylor Ross also lived to be a 101 years old.  As well, she was the 1st women to be elected governor of a state.  She was elected governor of Wyoming in 1924, succeeding her late husband in office.  She was defeated for reelection two years later but remained a prominent figure in Democratic politics.

The first woman ever elected to the U.S. House was Republican Jeanette Rankin, who was first elected from Montana in 1916.  She’s famous for opposing (and voting against) American entry into both World War I and World War II.  In both instances, her pacifism led to her either being voted out of or voluntarily leaving office.  While it’s difficult for me to accept her vote against entering World War II, she was a woman who consistently stood by her beliefs even when they weren’t popular and even when she knew they would lead to the end of her career.  That’s a lesson that several of our current government leaders would do well to learn.

The first woman to serve as a state senate majority leader was also the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court — Sandra Day O’Connor.

The first female senator was Rebecca Felton of Georgia.  A Democrat, she was appointed to the Senate in 1922 and served a total of one day.  The first woman to actually be elected to the U.S. Senate was Hattie Carraway of Arkansas.  A Democrat, Carraway was first elected in a 1931 special election to fill the seat that had previously been held by her late husband.  She later shocked a lot of people for running for winning two terms on her own.

Since 1922, 38 women have served in the U.S. Senate.  17 currently serve in the U.S. Senate.  In today’s general election, a total of 16 women (including incumbents) will be running for a Senate seat.  According to current polling, there should be a record number of women in the U.S. Senate after today’s election.  That number will still probably only account for about 20 to 22% of the total membership. 

(Meanwhile, 51% of the citizens governed by this 80% male Senate are female.)

Women have been running for President even before they were legally allowed to vote.  However, the first woman to launch a serious campaign for the presidential nomination of either one of the two major political parties was Republican U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine who ran in 1964.  Smith was followed by Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Mink (two Democrats who ran in 1972), Pat Schroeder (Democrat, 1988), Elizabeth Dole (Republican, 2000), Carol Mosely Braun (Democrat, 2004), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democrat, 2008). 

Clinton came the closest of that group to actually winning the nomination and, arguably, was the first woman to ever have a truly serious chance at doing so.  That said, it still wasn’t good enough to convince Barack Obama to offer her the vice presidency.  That role went to Joe Biden, a well-meaning, old school sexist if there ever was one. 

In fact, only two women have been nominated for Vice President by a major political party.  Geraldine Ferraro was nominated by the Democrats in 1984.  Sarah Palin was nominated by the Republicans in 2008.  In both cases, the nominations were dismissed as gimmicks and both Ferraro and Palin were subjected to criticism and scrutiny that had little to do with their qualifications (or lack thereof) and everything to do with the fact that they were women being judged by a male-dominated mainstream media.  Hence, Ferraro was attacked for marrying a charming guy who turned out to be a crook and Palin was attacked for the clothes she wore and her daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that either Ferraro or Palin was a good choice for the Vice Presidency or the Presidency.  Obviously, there are many legitimate concerns about Sarah Palin.  While I’m only familiar with Ferraro from history books, it appears that the same could be said about her.  My only point here is that rather than focus on the legitimate issues about either one of these candidates, the media decided to focus on their gender and judged them less on the issues and more on preconceived assumptions of the “proper” role of a woman in politics.

(That role, by the way, is to be a sexless, opinionless, and humorless cardboard cut-out with absolutely no history beyond the day they were first elected to public history.)

Though no woman has ever been nominated for the presidency by a major political party, many women have run for President on third-party tickets.  The first to do so was my personal hero, Victoria Woodhull.  In 1872, 34 year-old spiritualist, journalist, and free love advocate Woodhull attempted to run for President as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party.  For her troubles, she spent election day in jail.  The election was won by Ulysses Grant who, it is generally agreed, was one of the worst Presidents in U.S. history.

Since Woodhull’s day behind bars, approximately 25 women have been nominated for the presidency by a third or independent party, everyone from the National Equal Rights Party’s Belva Ann Lockwood (the first female attorney to ever argue a case in front of the Supreme Court) in 1884 to the Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney in 2008.

The first woman to ever receive a vote in the electoral college was Theodora Nathan, the libertarian candidate for Vice President in 1972.  She received one vote from a California elector named Roger MacBride.

Both my Aunt Kate and my mom were fond of saying that if women were in charge of the world, there would be no more wars.  I don’t agree with that but then again, could Victoria Woodhull possibly have been a worse president than Ulysses S. Grant?

It’s something to consider.

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August 26th is Women’s Equality Day. 

I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I’m happy to see anything that acknowledges that women deserve the same rights (both legally and culturally) as men.  On the other hand, it’s hard not to be dismayed by the fact that we apparently need a day to remind us of this fact.  To me, Women’s Equality Day is less about celebrating how far we’ve come and more about realizing that we’ve still got a very long way to go.

Women’s Equality Day is technically meant to commemorate the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  This is the amendment that brought universal suffrage to this country.  Until then, some states allowed women to vote and other didn’t.  A female citizen of Wyoming was allowed to cast her ballot while a woman in Pennsylvania could be arrested and jailed for attempting to exercise the same right.

Oddly, most states allowed women to run for public office but they didn’t allow them to the vote for themselves.  The first woman to ever run for President — Victoria C. Woodhull in 1872 — spent election day in jail specifically so she wouldn’t vote for herself.  Woodhull, by the way, is a personal hero of mine.

So, when did women finally gain, under the U.S. Constitution, the right to vote in every state as opposed to just some?

The 19th amendment was officially certified on August 26th, 1920.

Consider that.

The guaranteed, Constitutional right of women to have a say in their government is less than a 100 years old. 

In order for the 19th amendment to become a part of the Constitution, 36 states were required to ratify it.  The 1st states to ratify the amendment were Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin who all did so on June 10th, 1919.  My homestate of Texas was the 9th, ratifying on June 28th, 1919.  The 36th state to ratify the amendment was Tennessee on August 18th, 1920.  The last state to ratify was Mississippi who got around to officially ratifying the amendment on March 22nd, 1984.

It’s difficult for me to understand and imagine what it must have once been like for women like Victoria Woodhull, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Belva Lockwood (and many others).  These women devoted their lives to and risked both ridicule and criminal prosecution for the rights that I take for granted.  I cast my first vote in the 2004 presidential election and I’ve voted in 2 general elections since then.  All three times, it was something that I did because it was what everyone does on the 1st Tuesday of November.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have had the strength to fight for these rights that I now take for granted.  Honestly, it’s hard to say for sure.  Sometimes, it’s easier to just accept injustice than to risk being on the outside.  I’d like to think that I would fight but traditionally, women are not raised to fight and we’re made to feel as if we’re somehow to blame whenever we do.

For most of recorded history, women have been raised and encouraged to be dependent.  In return for being dependent, we’re given small gifts that are meant to somehow pass for a greater reward.  Far too often, we accept this because it’s what we’re used to and it’s what we’re secure with.  We’re told that men will take care of us as long as we’re willing to sacrifice our own individual ambitions and desires.

And, sad to say, a lot of women — even today — have somehow managed to justify that sacrifice.

It’s a sacrifice I’ve never been willing to make and for that, I may never be allowed to have what I’ve always been told equals safety and perfection.  But whenever I feel like I can’t go on or when it seems like it would just be so much easier to sacrifice my own dreams and just conform to someone else’s idea of who I should be, I remember Victoria C. Woodhull who chose to go to jail as opposed to accepting the idea of being a second-class citizen.  I remember Woodhull and all the other strong women of the past who fought for me to have the chance to be something more than just a supporting ingenue in someone else’s play.

To me, that’s what Women’s Equality Day celebrates.

And that independence is what I plan to celebrate every day for the rest of my life.

Gloria Elena Marchi Bowman (1958–2008)

Gloria Elena Marchi was born in Benavides, Texas in 1958, the youngest of five children.  Her mother was originally from Spain while her father was a 1st generation Italian-American.  Gloria grew up in a household where not only was English not the first language, it was the third.  Looking back, I always remember that I could never understand why this intelligent, kind, and beautiful woman was always so painfully shy.  It’s only now, as I’ve grown up, that I realize that, in her mind, she would always be that outsider who struggled to say in English what she could have so easily articulated in Spanish.  Her entire life, she spoke with a unique accent, a lyrical combination of Spanish, Italian, and American southwest that, to the delight of her children, would always become so much stronger whenever she was safely among her family.  Perhaps because she was so insecure about her own English, she pushed all four of her daughters to read and write and to speak with the articulation that she incorrectly felt she would never possess.

Gloria was barely 21 years old when she married and before the marriage ended, she would have four daughters: Margaret Megan, Melissa Anne, Erin Nicole, and Lisa Marie.  The last 29 years of her life were dedicated to her family and looking back now, my greatest regret is that I never truly appreciated how much strength and courage it took.  As a single mother trying to raise four very strong-willed daughters, I am sure there were days when it had to be tempting for her to just give up, to just throw her hands in the air and say, “Go live your own lives, I’ve done all I can do.”  She wouldn’t have been wrong because, as a mother, Gloria did everything she could do and then she did even more.  Through all the stress and worry that comes with being a single mom, Gloria never gave up on herself or her daughters.

She spent the last nine years of her life battling cancer.  I can still remember praying to God night-after-night, demanding that he mystically snap his fingers and take her cancer away.  I would beg him not to take her away from me.  So many times, she was told that she had beaten the disease, that she was moving towards recovery, just to then have it come back.  Sometimes it waited a few months, the last time it waited for three years.  But it always came back no matter how much I cried.  No matter how many tears I shed, she never allowed me to see her shed one.  No matter how angry I got, she never once raised her voice.  She never wanted me or anyone else to know how much pain she was in.  No matter how ill she felt, she was always there to encourage me when I was down, to wipe away my tears if I cried, and to calm me when I was angry.  Everything that she should have demanded from me and others, she gave to us instead.

When she did pass, I was so angry at her for leaving me.  Only now do I understand that she didn’t leave me.  She’s still with me in my heart forever.

Gloria Elena Marchi Bowman was the strongest and bravest woman that I’ve ever known and ever will know.  She is also my mom.  This website is dedicated to her.

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