Will a Woman Be a Running Mate?
by Jo FreemanAs Al Gore and George W. Bush plan for their Presidential campaigns, several women are under consideration as running mates. Republicans have mentioned Elizabeth Dole, New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman and Maine Senator Olympia snow. On the Democratic list of possibles is California Senator Dianne Feinstein, New Hampshire Governor Jeane Shaheen, and Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
This is the first presidential election in which women have been seriously considered by both parties to be on their national ticket, and the first in which it wasn't assumed that being one of "the second sex" wasn't a handicap for the second spot.
It was 1984 before a woman ran for Vice President as a major party candidate, though women were considered, albeit not seriously, as early as 1924.
Geraldine Ferraro's nomination by the Democratic Party was partially due to desperation and partially to organized pressure. Walter Mondale faced an uphill battle against the popular incumbent, Ronald Reagan, and hoped that the presence of a woman on the Democratic ticket would bring more women to the polls voting their approval.
His mind was focused on this strategy after women's organizations with delegates to the Democratic convention decided that a woman on the national ticket was their priority. They sent Mondale a short list of acceptable women and threatened revolt at the convention if he did not choose one of them.
This was the first serious effort to put a woman on the national ticket, but not the first campaign to do so. After the Suffrage Amendment was ratified in 1920, the political parties courted party women with symbolic gestures. At Democratic Party conventions, states often nominated favorite sons for vice-president to promote local notables to a national audience. Some honored favorite daughters. In 1924, Mrs. Leroy Springs of South Carolina received 38 votes for vice-president. In 1928 Wyoming's former governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, got 31.
That same year the Prohibition Party ran Marie Caroline Brehm for Vice President, making it the first minor party to do so. It would be a couple decades before another woman was in a national race, but by 1956 women were frequent tenants of the second slot on third party tickets.
Four years earlier, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) ran a bipartisan 'woman for vice president' campaign. Its primary purpose was to honor its outgoing national president, Texas Judge Sarah Hughes, by arranging for her nomination at the Democratic Convention. A few flowery speeches and a little national publicity seemed a nice way to end her tenure and remind the country that women were voters too.
BPW also asked former Cong. Clare Booth Luce (Conn.) to propose Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith at the Republican convention. A Member of Congress since 1940 and a Senator since 1948, in 1952 Smith held the highest public office of any American woman.
The "honor" was soon complicated by politics. Democratic Party women were not happy that one of their own was not the recipient. They wanted India Edwards, director of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee, to be the most important woman at the Democratic convention. To avoid a conflict both women were nominated, with short speeches and to great acclaim.
The women's campaign for Smith was buried by the fight for the nomination between supporters of Sen. Robert Taft (Oh) and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the Republican Party token nominations are often imbued with a political significance that they don't have in the Democratic Party. The campaign evoked suspicion that the women were organizing for one side or the other.
To stop the speculation, Smith withdrew her name and Luce made a speech from the convention floor that the women were abandoning her nomination in the interests of party harmony.
It would be twenty years before we would see another such campaign. At the 1972 Democratic Convention, there was a boomlet for Sissy Farenthold of Texas after Cong. Shirley Chisholm (NY), who had campaigned for the Presidential nomination, said she didn't want to be nominated for Vice President.
Democratic nominee George McGovern picked Thomas F. Eagleton (Mo), but in a field of seventy candidates Farenthold was a strong second. She received 404.04 delegate votes, or fifteen percent of the total.
There won't be a similar organized effort to run a women, as a woman, at either party convention this year. The Republican women's organizations are opposed to publicly promoting women, though they sometimes do so behind the scenes. Democratic women have too many choices and won't unite behind any of them.
There may be a woman on a national party ticket in 2000, but it will be because her time has come, not because women organized to put her there.