Kamala Harris and other women politicians who broke barriers
Politics is an umbrella term for a set of systems structured to master decision-making on behalf of an entire country or specific entity. Over the years, many politicians have aspired to overcome colossal hurdles and break barriers; women politicians, in particular, have faced an arduous battle.
Whether it involves the United States or the whole world, women in politics have come to prove their roles are pivotal for equality and social justice in their wider communities. Their cumulative fight for human rights and democracy, however, was not often celebrated by the other half of society. But if history tells us anything, it's that women did not break the glass ceiling by following legal and moral codes outlined solely by men.
Late American politician and trailblazer Shirley Chisholm echoed the above sentiment best by saying, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” Following that way of thinking, countless women managed to make their marks on history in spite of American culture favoring men and their contributions.
The most recent example of women breaking barriers is Sen. Kamala Harris becoming Joe Biden's running mate for the 2020 general election. In doing so, she becomes both the first Black and the first South Asian woman to be a vice presidential pick for a major political party. This is a historical moment as women did not even have the right to vote until Congress ratified what is now known as the 19th Amendment in 1920, just 100 years ago. This ripple effect reverberated across the world for years and decades after. Women pay dividends to earlier activists to this day by tenaciously calling for equal pay and eliminating discriminatory practices.
Stacker looked through history books, transcripts on women leaders, and news archives to gather a list of 29 women whose intricate paths paved the way for reform and more privileges most contemporary women benefit from today.
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A Czech refugee, Madeleine Albright received a unanimous endorsement from Congress after she was named the United States secretary of state by former President Bill Clinton in 1997, making her the first woman to hold that post. Albright’s work lives on to this day, from supporting the NATO-led military intervention in Kosovo to her positive stance on the endorsement of the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change.
[Pictured: Former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at "Challenges to Open Democracies" on May 31, 2017, in Estoril, Portugal.]
Born in 1882, Francis Perkins was head of the New York Consumers’ League before she set a precedent for all women and became the first to hold a Cabinet position as the U.S. secretary of labor, only 13 years after women were granted the right to vote. Perkins was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt and served for 12 years, the longest by a labor minister. One of her many achievements includes playing a role in ratifying the Social Security Act in 1935 to help retired, injured, and unemployed workers.
[Pictured: David Dubinsky and Frances Perkins.]
The many barriers Shirley Chisholm broke cannot be counted on one hand. Not only was she the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, but the outspoken educator and activist was also the first African American to be nominated as a presidential candidate by a major party and first woman to run for the Democratic nomination in 1972.
Clare Boothe Luce
Born Ann Clare Boothe, the famed writer was revered by both political parties in the United States. She truly pushed the envelope when she was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower as the first woman ambassador of the United States to a major European nation (Italy) in 1953. Famous for her intelligence and vitriolic wit, Clare Boothe Luce managed to win a U.S. House seat in 1942 despite never having stood for office before.
Julia C. Addington
The first woman to ever win a public office in Iowa and possibly in the United States, Julia C. Addington’s election to the superintendent of schools in Mitchell County was questioned due to the sole reason of her gender. And despite her 1869 election being ruled legal by Iowa’s attorney general, Addington was not welcomed with open arms from peers and colleagues.
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Barbara Jordan made history in 1966 by becoming the first African American woman to win a Senate seat. Jordan helped John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign by organizing a get-out-the-vote program targeting Houston’s 40 African American precincts and lobbied for the protection of the civil rights of minorities.
Margaret Chase Smith
The Maine native was and continues to be an exemplar of leadership and female empowerment. Margaret Chase Smith left her mark as the first woman to be elected to both the U.S. House (1940) and U.S. Senate (1948). Chase, who was a military and national security expert, fought for the rights of women to join the military until President Harry Truman passed a bill into law that would allowed women regular status in the military in 1948.
Daughter of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was the first and only woman to hold the highest post in India as prime minister in 1966. A role model, Gandhi was a women’s rights advocate, and was even dubbed “The Iron Lady of India.” She was assassinated in 1984 by her own bodyguards after she ordered removing a militant leader in what is called “Operation Blue Star.”
[Pictured: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi meets British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.]
Another woman who shattered norms and glass ceilings is Benazir Bhutto, who remains the first and only woman leader of a Muslim country. The two-time prime minister in a Muslim-majority country (Pakistan) that, to this day, is plagued with militants was a human rights advocate and avid supporter of the people’s choice. While campaigning for the prime minister office in 2007, Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack that was later claimed in an Urdu book by the Pakistani Taliban for her alleged plans to fight militants in the region, in collaboration with the U.S.
Born in the Bronx, Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice after she was appointed by Barack Obama in 2009. She was also the first Hispanic federal judge in the State of New York, working and ruling in highly important cases, such as the one against the owner of a baseball team—and for the players—when she effectively ended the 1994 strike.
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