House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi likes to talk about how wrong it is that American history tells us that women “were given” the vote in 1920. “Women worked, struggled, marched, demanded the right to vote. That’s what it took,” she told me in 2013. So it was too bad, in a way, that Hillary Clinton’s winning a decisive majority of pledged delegates Tuesday night was overshadowed by Monday night’s odd media call that she’d already gone over the top, defeating Senator Bernie Sanders with superdelegates.
Despite what conspiracy theorists may believe, though, Clinton wasn’t “given” anything—she worked her ass off, from caucuses to primaries to debates. She won surprising victories and endured unexpected losses, just as she did in 2008, just as suffragettes did in the 19th and early 20th century. But in 2016, just like in 1920, but not in 2008, that hard work paid off, and Clinton ultimately won, becoming the first female major-party nominee for president. The country is a better, more inclusive place because of this accomplishment, in a lasting way.
That unfortunate Monday superdelegate call didn’t manage to upstage Clinton’s raucous victory party in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. My concern about Clinton’s achievement being overshadowed in the media by Sanders’s continued run proved unfounded. At a certain point on Monday, it seemed like the media realized that the “first woman nominee” storyline might be more exciting to their audience than doing the delegate math for Sanders and trumpeting his promise to fight on to the convention.
In 1960, Democrats nominated (and elected) the first Catholic president; in 2008, they did the same with the first black president; now they’ve put forward the first woman nominee, to run against the ultimate avatar of male anxiety, Donald Trump. This will be another historic election, and polls say it is likely to have the same result as the last two.
“The White House has been the ultimate tree house in America with a giant ‘no girls allowed’ sign on it,” Pat Schroeder told MSNBC Tuesday afternoon. Schroeder, who seriously considered a presidential run in 1987 but gave it up tearfully, also said she thought Geraldine Ferraro’s 1984 vice-presidential nomination would make it routine for Democrats to put a woman on the ticket. Instead, unbelievably, it took 32 more years. This time, though, a woman is on top.
It was hard to be in that joyous, multiracial, heavily female Clinton crowd in Brooklyn and not think of the women on whose shoulders Clinton was standing, like Ferraro and Schroeder. But I thought most of Shirley Chisholm, the first Democratic woman to run for president in 1972. A friend who was torn by the bitter Clinton-Sanders contest in New York told me she wrote in Chisholm in the primary; it was the only balm for her sore political soul. The African-American Brooklyn congresswoman won the state of New Jersey and went to the convention in Miami with her own delegates, but she wasn’t taken seriously. Twelve years later, I covered a protest by black women leaders, led by now-Congresswoman Maxine Waters, at the 1984 Democratic convention, because the party hadn’t bothered to consider Chisholm—or any black women—when they vetted and chose the first female vice-presidential nominee. With the Rev. Jesse Jackson a runner-up in the 1984 primary, that year marked the beginning of the transformation of the Democratic Party, its rescue from the desertion of its previous base, the white working class, by a new, younger, multiracial, majority-female base.