For the first time in the United States’ 240-year history, a woman had a real chance at the presidency and put a significant crack in the highest glass ceiling. Hillary Clinton was the first female presidential candidate nominated by a major party. But she didn’t rise, a lone woman, out of the void. Other women paved the way, and eventually a woman will follow who makes it into the Oval Office. Wouldn’t now be a good time to read about some of the trailblazers?
The following titles are by or about women who broke (or at least chipped away at) a glass ceiling in politics:
“The Highest Glass Ceiling” by Ellen Fitzpatrick covers three American women who pursued the highest office in the country. Victoria Woodhull ran for president on the National Radical Reformers ticket in 1871, decades before women gained the vote. Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected on her own to the U.S. Senate, made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination in 1964. Eight years later, Shirley Chisholm would become the first African-American woman to run in the Democratic primary.
Barbara Winslow’s biography, “Shirley Chisholm, Catalyst for Change,” gives more details about the life of this bold woman whose slogan was “unbought and unbossed.” Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In her time there, she championed issues affecting low-wage workers, was instrumental in the Congressional Black Caucus, and encouraged other women to enter politics.
In “The Woman Behind the New Deal”, Kirstin Downey tells the story of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt and the first woman appointed to a cabinet position. It’s thanks to Perkins that we have a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, Social Security and a 40-hour work week.
Madeleine Albright made history as the first woman to serve as Secretary of State when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Her book, “Madam Secretary,” recalls those years and reveals more about her life and background, including her early childhood in Prague and her family’s flight from there with the rise of Hitler. She has also served on the National Security Council and as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
“No Higher Honor” is Condoleezza Rice’s memoir of her time in Washington. She served as advisor to both President George H.W. Bush and his son, President George Bush, and eventually became the first African-American woman appointed as Secretary of State. The book fills in many behind-the-scenes details of major events, such as dealing with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
“Sisters in Law” by Linda Hirshman is about women in the judicial branch of government, specifically the first two women confirmed as Supreme Court justices. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg came from disparate backgrounds and viewpoints, but they both graduated at the top of their respective law classes. Together, they added a perspective to the court that had been missing for the previous couple of centuries.