Shirley Chisholm (1924 - 2005)
“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
Born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents, Shirley Chisholm made history as the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968. Through seven consecutive terms in Congress, she was a passionate advocate for minority rights and urban needs. She staffed her Congressional office entirely with women, half of whom were African-American.
Chisolm began her career in early childhood education and ran a day care center, giving her a close-up look at problems at the neighborhood and city level. Her successful efforts in local organizing, her outspoken and independent persona and her ability to speak Spanish made her a popular local figure and helped launch her political career. In 1964 she ran as an independent for the N.Y. state legislature from her Brooklyn district and won, serving four years and distinguishing herself by getting unemployment benefits extended to domestic workers.
In 1968, Chisolm seized the opportunity to run for Congress from a newly reapportioned district of largely black voters. Her campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.” During her 15 years in office she played a critical role in legislation affecting women, children and families, including the creation of the WIC nutrition program. In 1971 she joined the Congressional Black Caucus as one of its founding members and that same year helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus.
The following year, 1972, Chisholm entered the Democratic presidential race, becoming the first woman and the first African-American to do so. Although she didn’t win the nomination, she garnered 151 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention.
Ten years later, upon retiring from Congress and moving on to teach at Mount Holyoke College, she told the Associated Press, “When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.”