Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be on a major party ticket and an inspiration to many women to seek political office, has died at the age of 75. Ferraro was, as the Washington Post says, a ‘relatively obscure congresswoman’ from the New York city borough of Queens when Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale selected her to join his ticket. Ferraro died this morning in Boston, where she was being treated for complications of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had been fighting for 12 years.
The choice of Ferraro gave new momentum to Mondale’s struggling campaign against President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush. But an investigation into her husband John Zaccaro’s finances and business dealings and her support of abortion rights stalled her campaign. Reagan went on to win 49 out of 50 states in 1984. Ultimately, Ferraro’s candidacy has emboldened and inspired American women to seek political office and ‘laid the groundwork’ for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in the same year.
Ferraro was raised by her widowed mother, the former Antonetta L. Corrieri, in the South Bronx and Queens. She attended Marymount College in Tarrytown on a scholarship and was one of two women out of a class of 179 to receive a law degree from Fordham University’s Law School in 1960. After marrying Zaccaro in 1961, Ferraro became a housewife and raised three children. She did legal work for her husband’s business, some pro bono work for women in Family Court, and, as the New York Times says, ‘dabbled in politics.’ In 1973, she got a job as assistant district attorney in charge of a special victims bureau, for which she investigated rape, crimes against the elderly, and child and wife abuse. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978.
The New York Times quotes Ferraro about her history-making candidacy:
She addressed her place in history in a long letter to The Times in 1988, noting that women wrote to her about how she had inspired them to take on challenges, “always adding a version of ‘I decided if you could do it, I can too.’” Schoolgirls, she said, told her they hoped to be president someday and needed advice.
“I am the first to admit that were I not a woman, I would not have been the vice-presidential nominee,” she wrote. But she insisted that her presence on the ticket had translated into votes that the ticket might otherwise have not received.
In any event, she said, the political realities of 1984 had made it all but impossible for the Democrats to win, no matter the candidates or their gender. “Throwing Ronald Reagan out of office at the height of his popularity, with inflation and interest rates down, the economy moving and the country at peace, would have required God on the ticket,” Ms. Ferraro wrote, “and She was not available!”
In regard to the ethical and financial questions that hampered Ferraro’s 1984 campaign, Mondale said that a ‘male running mate might not have been dissected so severely,’ according to the New York Times. Remembering his former running mate, Mondale described her as “a remarkable woman and a dear human being” and, as noted in the Washington Post:
“She was a pioneer in our country for justice for women and a more open society. She broke a lot of molds and it’s a better country for what she did.”
As Ferraro later told an interviewer, “I don’t think I’d run again for vice president,” only to add “Next time I’d run for president.”
Here is Ferraro giving her acceptance speech for the 1984 Vice Presidential nomination:
I still remember the shiver of excitement I felt to see Ferraro on the stage of the Moscone Center with Mondale. Starting in the sixth grade, I had informed my family I was a feminist and proudly displayed a ‘Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman’ button I had bought at a school fair. It was something to see a female candidate.
Thank you, Geraldine Ferraro, for being a true trailblazer for women in the US; for women all over the world.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.