Series Examines Women in Leadership

News and Notes will profile distinguished women in leadership throughout March in its "Leading Ladies" series. Hear a preview, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments," and the voices of female leaders in history.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya.

(Soundbite of song, "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters")

COX: Today, we mark the start of women's history month with our series, Leading Ladies - celebrating women who have risen to positions of power in politics, faith, the arts, business, even the military. We start with politics. Less than a hundred years ago, women were not only locked out of Congress, they couldn't vote.

And Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American Congresswoman, was elected less than 40 years ago. In 2005, Condoleezza Rice became the first woman of color to head the state department. How times have changed. Today, 13 black women served in Congress.

In the coming days, we'll talk to a number of leading ladies, including Carol Moseley Braun, the only African-American woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate - Shirley Franklin, the only African-American woman mayor of a major Southern city - and Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman ever to make it on to her party's presidential ticket.

But first, it all began with 24 votes. Elizabeth Cady Stanton ran for Congress in 1866, when women ranked just above freed slaves on the social pecking order, and she got just 24 votes. That's out of 12,000. Why so few? For one, it was the first time a woman had ever run for Congress. And while she enjoyed the support of many women, not one was allowed to vote. Stanton ran anyway, on principle.

Ms. ELIZABETH PERRY (Actress): (Reading) "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."

COX: That was actress Elizabeth Perry reading from Elizabeth Cady Stanton's famous "Declaration of Sentiments". Many credit the speech delivered in 1848 with starting the women's rights movement. After Stanton's failed Congressional bid, it would take 50 years for a state, any state, to finally send a woman to Congress. That state was Montana, 1917.

The candidate was Jeannette Rankin. Ironically, she won three years before the 19th Amendment passed. That meant she could vote in the House, but most women could still not vote at home. Rankin was a Republican. She was also a pacifist, and the only member of Congress to oppose American military intervention in both world wars.

Ms. JEANNETTE RANKIN (Former Representative, Republican, Montana): War is a method, and you can be either for it or against it. And I'm against it because of its futility, its stupidity and its ultimate destruction of humanity.

COX: Jeannette Rankin opened the door for more women to run for and win elective office, but women of color still faced a double bind. There were women in the society that insisted their place was in the home. And there were African-American when racism was the rule, which is what made Shirley Anita Chisholm so special.

Ms. SHIRLEY ANITA CHISHOLM (First African-American Congresswoman): I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud of it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. CHISHOLM: I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I'm equally proud of that.

(Soundbite of applause)

COX: In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. A Democrat from New York, she helped found both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Organization for Women. But she wanted to do more. The issues that matter to most women - especially women - of color just did not register on Washington's white male radar. So in 1972, she ran for president.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. CHISHOLM: I am not the candidate of any political bossy or fat cat or special interest.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

Ms. CHISHOLM: I stand here now, without endorsement from many big-name politicians or celebrity or any other kind of prop. I am the candidate of the people of America.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

Ms. CHISHOLM: And my presence before you now symbolizes a new era in American political history.

COX: Chisholm lost her bid for the nomination, but she laid the groundwork for a new generation of pioneers. Just a year later, Barbara Jordan of Texas joined Chisholm in Congress. Like Chisholm, Jordan was a masterful orator, and her speech at the 1976 Democratic convention can still raise the hair on the back of your neck.

Ms. BARBARA JORDAN (Former Congresswoman): Let all understand that these guiding principles cannot be discarded for short-term political gains. They represent what this country is all about. They are indigenous to the American idea, and these are principles which are not negotiable.

(Soundbite of applause)

COX: Rankin and Jordan died more than a decade ago - Chisholm just two years ago - but their legacy continues. Eighty-seven women now serve in Congress - 21 are women of color, plus two delegates. And as we said, 13 Congresswomen are African-American.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.