In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice president candidate representing a major American political party. After Ferraro became a lawyer, she took a job at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office and dealt with sex crimes, child abuse, and domestic violence. Just four years later, in 1978, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where she focused on women’s equality in the areas of wages, pensions, and retirement plans. Due to her efforts in these areas, Ferraro made quite the name for herself and began a powerful politician. In the presidential race for the 1984 election, presidential Democratic hopefuls began to consider nominating a woman to be the vice-president running mate. What changed in society that made this possible?
Although the announcement of a woman as the vice-president nominee, it actually made a lot of political sense. In her book, Ferraro states, “No politician, especially a presidential candidate, makes such a choice without running the numbers, without weighing the regional pull a running mate can bring it, without identifying the candidate’s national—and natural—constituency, who will be not only potential campaign contributors but deliver voters as well.” The power of women’s votes had been “growing steadily since the 1980 elections.” This was the first time in history that more women than men had voted. “Overnight, it seemed, pollsters discovered a new voting bloc that voted not only in greater numbers than men but differently from them. And the gender gap was recognized.” Therefore, Democratic presidential hopefuls realized that by running with a woman as their vice-president, they might be able to capture the female vote to secure the White House. The Democrats were running against incumbent Ronald Reagan and vice-president George H.W. Bush, and Ferraro realized that the Democrats would only have a chance if they could capture the female vote. In a letter, the Democratic presidential candidate stated, “As Democrats, we convinced that four more years of Republican rule would be disastrous for women.” Ferraro and other female politicians decided to make their voice heard. Ferraro stated, “I sent a letter to the candidates, signed by eight other female colleagues in Congress. I wrote that no Democratic presidential candidate could hope to win in 1984 without addressing issues of concern to women.” Some of the issues concerning women were the disparities between genders: “financial equity—or inequity—a female college graduation could expect to earn in a lifetime the same amount as a man who had not finished eighth grade; and the female unemployment rate, at 10.4 percent, was the highest since the end of World War II.”
When the Democratic presidential hopefuls began to look at female politicians as running mates, Ferraro’s name was at the top of the list. In discussing why she was such a popular choice, Ferraro stated. “’Ferraro: Italian-American; three-term congresswoman; married and the mother of three; friend of labor, the elderly, and women; respected by House leadership; East Coast blue collar; conservative ethnic constituency.’ I could have been anyone’s colleague, sister, or daughter, they reasoned. By those criteria, I was in their eyes the most acceptable woman vice-presidential candidate.” Ferraro felt that being vice-president was very appealing because it “could help all women in politics” which mattered a lot to Ferraro since she had had to fight long and hard to get where she was in politics. Ferraro stated, “For all the ground we had gained, we still had much farther to go. If we saw this idea through, we could always use it after the election as a bargaining chip for cabinet posts or other positions high in the government. And the possibility of a woman Vice President would lend excitement to the Democratic campaign.”
When Democratic presidential hopeful Walter Mondale was asked about the significance of nominating a woman as a vice-president running mate, He stated, “’Considering a woman a first, but it will not be a last. We have broken a barrier. Never again will a nominee make headlines by considering a woman. Next time headlines will be made only if women are not considered.’” Although this sort of gender equality has not quite been reached yet, Ferraro did help many barriers for other women. When Geraldine Ferraro was officially offered the position as Walter Mondale’s running partner for the 1984 election, she thought to herself: “Gerry Ferraro is going to have a unique opportunity to run for Vice President of the United States, and she might very well be Vice President and that’s one heck of a job and she’s going to have to work very hard.” Although Mondale and Ferraro did not win the presidential election, they made history and broke barriers together.
Ferraro, Geraldine and Linda Bird Francke. (1985). Ferraro: My Story. Northwestern University Press.