Hillary Clinton made history by becoming the first woman to accept a major political party’s nomination for president. Her achievement comes 180 years after the first non-white man was elected to a major political position. The former secretary of state crossed her required 2,383-delegate threshold during the Democratic National Convention’s night roll-call vote on Tuesday, July 26th. Senator Bernie Sanders concluded the roll call, moving for all votes to be cast for Clinton.
At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, just three miles from Independence Hall where the nation was born, a sense of history is palpable — as is Clinton’s willingness to finally enjoy it.
“What an incredible honor that you have given me, and I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” Clinton said via satellite after a video montage showed the faces of all 44 male presidents before shattering like glass to reveal Clinton waiting to address the convention from New York.
“This is really your victory. This is really your night,” Clinton told the cheering crowd. “And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman President. But one of you is next.”
The world’s oldest and greatest democracy took over two centuries to accomplish this huge milestone in history. In fact, as the New York Times reported in story recently, a closer look at milestones in politics for women and minorities tells of the gradual progress of American politics and the evolution of democracy in this great land of opportunities.
Western states granted women the right to vote earlier than the rest of the country, which led to the first women being elected to a state legislature — Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly and Frances Klock in Colorado — and to Congress — Jeannette Rankin, from Montana. More women began running for office once suffrage was granted to all women in 1919. Bertha K. Landes became the first female mayor of a major American city, Seattle, in 1926.
Many of the first female governors and senators were elected or appointed to fill vacancies after their husbands died. In the Senate, Hattie Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, was appointed in 1931 to complete her husband’s term after he died. She won a full term the following year, becoming the first woman elected to the Senate.
Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican from Maine, initially won a special election to complete her late husband’s House term. She served several terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1948.
Nancy Landon Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, was the first woman to win a Senate seat without first being appointed to finish her husband’s House or Senate term.
The history of female governors begins in 1924 when Nellie Tayloe Ross, a Democrat from Wyoming, was elected in a special election to complete the term of her deceased husband.
That same year, Miriam Ferguson, known as Ma, a Democrat, was elected governor of Texas. She campaigned as a surrogate for her husband, who was governor but could not run again after he was impeached, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics.
The next woman to serve as governor was Lurleen Wallace. She was put on the ballot in 1966, also as a surrogate for her husband, George C. Wallace, when the Alabama Legislature refused to alter the state’s Constitution to allow him to serve two consecutive terms. It was not until 1974 that Ella T. Grasso, a Democrat from Connecticut, became the first woman to be elected governor in her own right — not to fill out her husband’s term or serve as his surrogate.
Alexander Twilight was elected to the Vermont Legislature in 1836. He was also the first African-American to graduate from college. Black men were not elected to Congress until several decades later, during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, when former slaves in Southern states were given the right to vote and to hold public office. But it wasn’t until the civil rights movement that blacks made more significant, albeit still modest, gains.
Massachusetts voters elected Edward W. Brooke, a black Republican, to the Senate more than 50 years after the 17th Amendment allowed voters to cast direct votes for United States senators. Carl B. Stokes, the great-grandson of a slave, defeated the grandson of President William Howard Taft to become the mayor of Cleveland and the first black man to lead a major American city.
And Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman in the House after a court-ordered redistricting carved a new congressional district out of her Brooklyn neighborhood.
All of the major Hispanic “firsts” in politics came from states that were formerly Spanish territories, like California and New Mexico.
Antonio Francisco Coronel became mayor of Los Angeles shortly after California became a state. And Romualdo Pacheco was the first Hispanic representative to Congress with full voting rights. Most recently, Susana Martinez, a Republican of New Mexico, became the first female Hispanic governor.
Many of the first Asian-Americans to be elected have been from California or Hawaii, which became the 50th state in 1959. laine Noble became the first openly gay person elected to a state legislature by winning a seat in the Massachusetts State House.
Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, became the first openly gay person to be elected to Congress. She now is the only openly gay person elected to the Senate.
There are still many firsts to come.
There has not been an openly gay man elected to the Senate. Or a Hispanic woman. And there haven’t been any black women or openly gay or lesbian governors. As a group, women have often been elected second among the firsts, even decades after being granted the right to vote.
Hillary Clinton’s clinching the nomination follows a pattern that has been repeated at many levels of government throughout American history: White women are often the second or third group to break through the glass ceiling, usually after a black or Hispanic man has done it first. “It is an evolutionary process,” said Ms. Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics.
First women had to get used to the idea that they could participate in the electoral process. Later, “the powers that be were not encouraging women to run for office,” she said. “All of the gatekeepers were men.”