NEW YORK — Before Kamala Harris, three women from New York tried to break the glass ceiling as they aimed for the White House.

Brooklyn Rep. Shirley Chisholm made history in 1972 as the first Black woman to seek the presidential nomination of a major party.

What You Need To Know

  • Brooklyn Rep. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to seek a major party's presidential nomination in 1972

  • Queens Rep. Geraldine Ferraro became the first vice presidential nominee of a major party in 1984

  • Former Sen. Hilary Clinton made two runs for the White House; she became the first female presidential nominee of a major party in 2016

Twelve years later, Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of Queens was the first woman to become a major party’s vice presidential nominee.

And then former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major party.

Though unsuccessful, these trailblazers pointed the way for Harris.

“She would be so excited and thrilled and proud,” Donna Zaccaro, a daughter of Geraldine Ferraro, told NY1 on Friday.  

The filmmaker produced a documentary, "Geraldine Ferraro: Paving The Way," that was released in 2013, two years after Ferraro died of Multiple myeloma. The film chronicles Ferraro’s historic run. Like Harris, Ferraro was a child of immigrants, a prosecutor, and a pro-choice member of Congress. But While Ferraro fell short of winning national office, losing in a landslide to Ronald Reagan and his VP pick, George H.W. Bush, Harris will fulfill the aspiration Ferraro modeled.

Zaccaro says while women running for office are still plagued by sexist criticism — how their voices sound, how they dress, their youth or beauty — the inability to imagine a woman leading a roomful of men and women does not hamper the voters’ thinking, decades after her mother made her bid. 

“I do see it as a continuation of my mother’s legacy. Even though in that campaign she lost, and in a landslide…how she conducted herself during that campaign proved that a woman could be VP of the U.S. Or even president,” says Zaccaro. “This time around, Kamala Harris — her credentials weren’t even questioned.” 

Meanwhile, Chisholm was a lightning rod in the civil rights era of the late 60s. She served in the state Assembly three years before being elected to Congress to represent Brooklyn. A champion for the poor and for domestic workers, she was controversial for reaching across the aisle to work with segregationists like George Wallace on policy matters. Chisholm served 14 years representing the 12th Congressional District that today is a part of Rep. Yvette Clarke's district in Brooklyn. 

For the president of Eleanor’s Legacy, an organization that works to train women to run for office, Harris’s election is a historic achievement that in itself is a building block.

“We knew it was possible, working toward this moment,” Brette McSweeney says. "As Mrs. Chisholm described herself, ‘unbought and unbossed.’ Geraldine Ferraro of course famously reminded us, ‘We’ve come too far on the path to equality, we can’t let them turn us around now.’” 

She sees Harris's run as one of the last legs of a political relay that’s changed the view of women consistently since the country’s founding, with woman after another passing on the inspirational baton. 

McSweeney also says resting on laurels is not an option. 

She says in the interest of accountability to the electorate, helping ensure an accurate count of all ballots long after New York was declared for Biden and Harris, her organization is gearing up to support the ballot counting of a million votes across New York next week, including working with candidates they endorsed to review absentee “best practices” and calling on volunteers to support the campaigns that need it, “within the bounds of pandemic safety.”


Did you know you can now watch, read and stay informed with NY1 wherever and whenever you want? Get the new Spectrum News app here.


Looking for an easy way to learn about the issues affecting New York City?

Listen to our "Off Topic/On Politics" podcast: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Stitcher | RSS