YASMIN CRUZ: Good evening. I'm Yasmin Cruz, senior manager, John Hancock
Financial Services, and steering committee member of John F. Library Foundation's New Frontier Network. Founded four years ago, the New Frontier Network seeks to connect those of us without a living memory of President Kennedy to his legacy and to his Library. We now have over 350 members, and this program is dedicated to continue its work with emerging generations.
On behalf of the Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome you to the program this evening, and to acknowledge the generous underwriters of Kennedy Library Forums: lead sponsor Bank of America and the Lowell Institute, and our media sponsors, the Boston Globe, Xfinity, and WBUR.
One of the central stories we tell here at the Library is about the exciting 1960s presidential campaign. It was highlighted by the first-ever debates between major Party candidates, and one of the closest vote tallies in American history. We find ourselves gathered here today with the backdrop of yet another election cycle, with multiple candidates who are seeking to break new ground.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy broke new ground to become the youngest man and the first Catholic elected to the nation's highest office, and who challenged the country to pursue a new frontier. In her book, The Highest Glass Ceiling, Ellen Fitzpatrick tells the stories of three remarkable women who pushed the notion of what it means to be a candidate for President, well beyond the accepted and conventional boundaries of their times – Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith, and Shirley Chisholm. In creating very vivid portraits of these pioneering American politicians and their quest for the White House, Professor Fitzpatrick shows us how their stories help to illuminate today's political landscape.
Professor Fitzpatrick teaches history at University of New Hampshire, where she specializes in modern political and intellectual history. She has been recognized for her excellence in public service. She is the author of eight books, including Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation, which she spoke about in a previous Kennedy
Library Forum. Professor Fitzpatrick also participated in a conference cosponsored by the
Kennedy Library and the Radcliffe Institute on the 50th anniversary of the Presidential Report on American Women.
Ellen Fitzpatrick's book is on sale in our Museum store, and she has kindly agreed to sign books following this program in the Smith Center lobby.
Our moderator for this evening is Callie Crossley, host of WGBH Radio's Under the Radar with Callie Crossley. She is a frequent commentator on local and national television, appearing regularly on CNN's Reliable Source, On the Media, and the PBS News Hour. She appears weekly on Beat the Press, the WGBH TV show on which she examines local and national media coverage. For Boston Public Radio, Miss Crossley earned the 2015 Salute to Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists for a compilation of her weekly commentaries, "Observations on Ferguson: America's Racial Ground Zero."
I'm so excited about this discussion. This topic reminds me of one of my very favorite
President Kennedy quotes, which comes from his commencement speech at American University on June 10, 1963. And he said: "So let us not be blind to our differences, but also let's direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming back both Ellen Fitzpatrick and
Callie Crossley. [applause]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, thanks to Yasmin for that great introduction and setup.
What a great time to have this conversation about this book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women's Quest for the American Presidency. It's also great timing because, as some of you may know, this is Women's History Month. And so, I just thought perfect, perfect, perfect.
I wanted to quote from one of the reviews, the many positive reviews of Ellen's book. And this review was by Rebecca Traister from the New York Times. And she said: "We have some trouble, in this country, with women's history: celebrating it, making it central to our national narrative, remembering to notice when it is being made around us."
And I couldn't agree more. And so, this book, with your bringing to our attention the rich histories of these three women who ran for the presidency is very, very valuable information.
So let me begin this way, because for those of you who've not read the book, 200 women have actually tried to run for the presidency, and you chose three of them. Why these three?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, it was kind of surprising to me to find out that there were so many women that had run for President. When I began the project, I was intrigued by the fact that most of the women who had run for President that I knew about had very short runs. They hadn't gained very much traction. And they clearly were not successful. So like most failed presidential candidates, they dissolve into the mists of history. And even more so, in their case, because most of them never even got to the conventions.
And as I began to look at, and to compile some data on who had run and when, it became clear to me that there were three women in this long history, which really begins with Victoria Woodhull in 1870, who inspired a conversation about the idea of a woman as President. They sent ripples into the body politic through their candidacies. And it's not an accident that all three of them coincided with an important moment in the women's movement. And so, they arose in tandem with important historical changes that I think gave a kind of potency to their candidacies that was not as true for some of the other women who ran.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, let's start with Victoria, because she was one of the earliest to try this. What about her stood out in terms of her ability to even think about doing this? Remember, at the time that she was living, nobody was thinking about a woman trying out for President.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Victoria Woodhull is a great figure. As a historian, you study a lot of dead people. [laughter] And they become your close friends. I see she's already one of yours; you're calling her Victoria. [laughter] And most of them, we have to master their times and the details of who they were, and so forth. But now and again, your imagination is really grabbed by someone, and in the case of Victoria Woodhull, she was the first woman to run for President and she announced her candidacy in 1870 in the midst of the Reconstruction era, after the Civil War, when efforts were being made to deal with the legacy of slavery and of the war itself.
And she ran for President at a time when women couldn't vote, and wouldn't be able to vote until 1920, in most states in the country. And so, the whole notion that she would have been so radical as to put herself forward. She said, basically, "I can't vote, but I can be voted for." And so, there was no bar against her running for office, or for other people voting for her.
So I was very struck in Victoria Woodhull's case by the convergence of two, what we would think of today as absolutely – at least I would; strike me dead for lack of imagination – two elements of her life. She was the first woman to open a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and she was a radical and campaigned, in part, against the obscene wealth of obese corporations, and was just quite radical in her politics.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So marching on to Margaret, now that I know them so well, Margaret Chase Smith, what about her came together in her time? First woman Senator, only woman Senator at that time, to try for the presidency.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Margaret Chase Smith really was in some ways, of the three of them, had the best résumé, in the sense that when she ran for President in 1964, she was competing in the Republican primary. And she had had a long career in American politics and was routinely, year after year, selected in the Gallup poll, which was done annually, in which Americans are asked: who are the women in the world that you most admire. She would be in the top five.
And she had had a very illustrious career in the Congress, which began in 1940 when she ran to fill out her husband's term; he died in office. And then she ran for the Senate in '48. And she was the longest-serving woman Senator in the 20th century. And she was not a shrinking violet. She was a very active Senator. She served on the Armed Services Committee. She was one of the very few members of Congress in her own time to stand up to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the midst of the anti-communist crusades of the early 1950s, and was very courageous in doing so.
So she was greatly admired. She had a lot of experience. She was well regarded by her colleagues and her peers. She was a powerful figure in Republican politics. And yet, as soon as she, quote, threw her bonnet into the ring, she was very quickly depicted in the press as– it ranged from delusional to menopausal and unable to discharge her duties, and so forth.
So I found her to be an extremely compelling figure because she really, on the face of it, had had the career of an experienced male Senator who, by rights, one might expect would want to try for the presidency.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So now on to Shirley Chisholm.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Shirley's a great figure, too. They're all amazing figures. When I first began studying them, I didn't perceive them in the way that I wound up perceiving them later. In the case of Shirley, I do remember her candidacy because I was a college student, and that was the first time we were allowed to vote, in 1972. And what really struck me about Shirley Chisholm's career, obviously first African American woman to run for the presidency and to really compete in the primary system. She was extremely progressive in her politics. She did get her name placed in nomination in 1972 at the Democratic convention.
And for me, the story about Shirley Chisholm was really the way in which she managed to rise through the Democratic Party, which was Irish-machine-dominated, in the 1940s. When she was a college student, she began to go to meetings when she was at Brooklyn College in the local Democratic club in her district. And she challenged the old machine politicians. And they could see that the neighborhood was changing and that more and more African Americans were migrating into the community, and that they were going to have to deal with these folks if they wanted to remain in power.
And she leveraged that to the point where she became part of an insurgency among
African Americans in Bedford-Stuyvesant who overthrew the old Irish political machine.
But she maintained her contacts with these people and was an incredibly skillful politician, very, very shrewd in understanding where the Democratic Party was going and how she might position herself within it.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So I'm sorry to say there are some common factors, some common obstacles that run through all of these major campaigns. Here we go: age, looks, general sexism and sexist comments. And it seems to me all of the women struggled with themselves as candidates, which was "I am a woman, I want female votes, I want you to see me that way, but don't just vote for me because I'm a woman." Which was interesting to me as they tried to juggle that, obviously trying to have a universal appeal. So let's start there and then work backwards.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: That is a very important point that you're raising, because the role of other women in politics for these women was very, very complicated and important. All of them benefited from the support of other women who rallied around them and played, in the case of both Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm, club women in particular were very important in organizing for them. They got out there.
And in Chisholm's case, African American women in the community who were involved in some civic organizations, and even national associations, got out there and really campaigned hard for her and tried to raise money for her, and worked hard for her throughout her political career, not just the presidential run.
Also true of Margaret Chase Smith. Margaret Chase Smith as a young woman joined a women's club when she was just in her 20s. She was working for the telephone company. And she came from quite a modest working class background. She was not college educated. And had her husband not gone into politics, we would never have heard of Margaret Chase Smith. So the husbands are another whole category of discussion.
But in any case, in Margaret Chase Smith's political career, the women's clubs, the national women's clubs and the main federated women's clubs really got on board. And they worked really hard to put her into office.
In Woodhull's case, the leading women's suffrage figures of her time were very intrigued and at first welcoming of her, until she got into some hot water. And then they beat feet quickly away from her and the taint of any kind of scandal.
So the infrastructure of women's civic and political activism? Critical to these women advancing in national politics or in any kind of political position, and certainly in their runs for the presidency.
The other side of it is, however, it is not the case, as many assumed, that all women rallied around them. It was predicted when Victoria Woodhull ran in 1870, the male political pundits would say things like, "Well, if women get voting rights, Victoria Woodhull may very well be our next President. It's not an outlandish idea." This was in 1870.
But that assumption that women would automatically support a woman who was running for President and that you could count on the solidarity of all women together, each of these women found, of course to their sorrow, was not correct.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And then each of them tried to play– they wanted it, but they also said, "Don't just vote for me because I'm a woman." Which I think is interesting. Hey, get a vote where you can get it – "vote for me because I'm a woman and the rest of you do something else." [laughter]
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: That's an interesting point, because in a sense, because this threshold had never been crossed– I actually did a little op-ed for the LA Times recently about the "woman card," because Hillary Clinton's been accused of playing the woman card. And what I said – it's bad when you're paraphrasing yourself, but here it goes – is that the woman card is on the table the minute a woman candidate enters the race. Whether she plays it or not, it's there; it's on the table. And the only question is: does it play high or does it play low? It played low for most of American history.
So I think that because that conversation was out there in the larger national political scene that these women wanted to distance themselves from the assumption that somehow they were entitled to a vote simply because they were a symbol of something. They wanted to be judged and evaluated and found meritorious on their experience. In a sense, they felt I think degraded by being reduced to – reduced to in some sense because it was a reduction in the way that it was being discussed – the female candidate.
And so, it's a difficult balancing act because it is also the case that all three candidates were very committed to women's issues and to advancing women's equality. Margaret Chase Smith, among her first acts once she came into the Congress was to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment, which was periodically brought forward, and she was strong behind that. She was very concerned about rights of working women during the Second World War who were involved in defense work. And Woodhull, very strong advocate of women's suffrage. And Shirley, very committed to a whole range of issues, trying to redress women's economic inequality; reproductive rights was a big issue for Shirley.
So all of them were engaged in these issues, but somehow to be seen as simply "the woman candidate," they felt trivialized by that.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So the other thing that I thought was fascinating is that each one of these women either were right in the middle of a sex scandal or peripheral to it. But a sex scandal impacted all of them.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, true. It's interesting, this element of it, which I paused on. The three of them had husbands, and two out of three had problematic husbands. This probably is not shocking to most American women [laughter] to learn that they had difficulties with their husbands. Victoria Woodhull actually wound up having three husbands, but when she was a presidential candidate, she had two. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Former.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Former. And in that slip of the tongue is the whole story. Because she is brought down by the revelation that her former husband from whom she was divorced, who was a ne'er-do-well– he was a doctor who had been brought in to treat her for a fever when she was 15 years old. Her father was somewhat of a grifter. Her mother was clearly mentally ill. And this Mr. Woodhull, Dr. Woodhull, he was a very dapper, handsome fellow and he came in to treat her. He cured the fever and then wanted to claim her as his bride. And did with parental approval.
So she was married off to this man at a very young age. And she soon found out that he was an opium addict, that he spent all of his time in brothels and barrooms. And she describes a horrific scene of – she had a child within a year of her marriage, so I guess as a 16-year-old – an incredibly traumatic labor and delivery that was presided over by her drunken husband. So she left him.
And she went on to marry husband number two, Colonel Blood, who was a Civil War veteran, who had come to visit her. She was a spiritualist, a clairvoyant, a medium. And he had come for advice about his ailing wife. She saw her opportunity and she took it. [laughter] He was quite a handsome man, by the way. I saw pictures of him with the big handlebar mustache. When I got this daguerreotype on the screen of my computer, I was like, wow, I get it. [laughter]
So she was quite taken with him, and she, upon meeting Colonel Blood, went into a trance and said that she was having a vision that they were meant to be together. And guess what? It worked.
So she married him. Years go by and in Dr. Woodhull's declining years – he was literally dying from morphine addiction and many other medical problems that went with it – she and Colonel Blood took him into their home in New York City. She was then a very wealthy woman and had a big mansion. And it was full of her dysfunctional family members, and what was one more, the former husband. [laughter]
But when it came to light that she was living with her current husband and her former husband, a huge scandal erupted. And this came to light in the midst of her presidential campaign, and it was the end for her. She was depicted as–
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Loose.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: A loose woman, yeah, living with two men. And it just wasn't tenable in Victorian America to be living with your current and your former husband. It may not be today, but definitely wasn't then. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And it didn't help her that she was a big believer in free love, well early before Haight-Ashbury.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: She only comes out with that position though once she's accused of licentiousness. And this becomes the dominating headline – "Future President Revealed To Be." And so, she responds to that by lashing out at the most prominent Protestant minister of her day, Henry Ward Beecher, and reveals in her newspaper that he had been having an affair with at least one parishioner, probably more than one, to show the hypocrisy and the double standard. And then she embraces the free love cause at that point. But it was only after they tried to bring her down, and did bring her down as a presidential candidate.
So the whole Clinton thing is nothing compared to this. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: That's right. And with Margaret Chase Smith, she had a husband that had a few issues, and then later, modern woman that she was, with a younger guy that you could never prove that maybe was the lover.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: It's sort of unclear what the true nature of their relationship was. And I had a long conversation with the wonderful staff and archivists at the Margaret Chase Smith Library about this. No one really knows the nature of her relationship with this man who really helped run her Senatorial office. He was a remarkable fellow himself. He was a lawyer. He was a Navy veteran. He was a lifelong bachelor, and they had a very, very close relationship. The nature of it went to their graves.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, I read that and I said, as we say now, I'm not mad at her. [laughter]
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: That was a good relationship, whatever its intimacies or not. A clearly intimate relationship; whether it was sexual, I don't know. But he was a tremendous support. And that actually touches on an interesting theme, which is that each one of these women had men, either Colonel Blood in the case of Victoria Woodhull, and others I might add, and Margaret Chase Smith. And Shirley had a very supportive husband. I think she did divorce him ultimately, but not during this period that I write about. And she, I think, had the easiest marriage, it seemed.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: At one point she said, "People think that he's weak because he's supportive of me." Which I thought was a very interesting comment. But just to close up the loop, dirty tricks for her in terms of the sex scandal; it was completely made up. It happened during her campaign, and she couldn't really combat it at that point.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: No. I think in the case of all three of them, efforts were made as they campaigned for various offices along the line. In Margaret Chase Smith's case, there were rumors that she had– she was much younger than her first husband, and there were rumors that when she was running for the Senate in Maine, efforts were made to more than imply, the gossip began to be generated that she had been the cause of her husband's divorce, which that would have been a terrible thing in the minds of many.
And so, that was kind of ginned up as a way– and she was able to show that she was only 16, I think, when that first marriage of his dissolved. It turns out that she had met him around that time, but it was not credible. But that was an effort to show her, again, a loose woman. Victoria Woodhull, a loose woman.
And in the case of Shirley, the Nixon administration, when she was running for President, went after her with a dirty trick, trying to imply that she was insane, as well as– she was a great critic of the Nixon administration.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And a transvestite.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: And a transvestite. They manufactured a document that she had been picked up dressed in men's clothing.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: It was terrible.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: And put into an insane asylum. It was all fictitious, never happened.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So the age and the looks thing. It was very sad to see it just sort of going all the way across. And as we know, it still exists today. Particularly in the case of Margaret Chase Smith, it became such a deal about saying how old she was, that she started complaining about it, as she should have. And then I thought it was amazing that then the article about her complaining about it said "66" in the headlines, "complains about it." [laughter]
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: That was a great find. She was 66 years old, and much was made of the fact that– prior to this, when she was a Senator, despite the fact that she had silver hair, she was a very attractive woman and in excellent physical condition. She was very athletic her whole life.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And they made comment on that, too, how good-looking she was.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: She was slender and very attractive, and so forth. And much was made of that throughout her political career. And then the minute that she runs for President, the silver hair has a whole new meaning. She's described as old at 66. And many political columnists came right out and said that it was problematic to have a woman of this age running for President. One columnist said that she would be menopausal. There was not a great understanding of the female lifecycle here. [laughter] But what can I say? The idea was that she would be subject to all kinds of mood swings, and we couldn't possibly entrust the great powers of the presidency in a woman at this stage of her life.
And so, as Callie just pointed out, she came right back at it and she said, "Gee, I didn't hear any of this talk about my age until I began running for President. Suddenly I'm an old woman." And the headline the next day was, that carried the story that she criticized this line of argument was, "66-Year-Old Senator Hits Age Talk." Just repeating it again.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: You cannot make that up. So something else I thought was interesting into today was funding, women candidates looking for funding. Victoria Woodhull was rich, so she could carry herself to some degree. But Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm were really hampered by not having the funds, and not willing to go into debt to try to do this.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: This is a critical theme for women who have run for President, and it goes right into the current moment. And I think it's an interesting dimension of the criticisms, whatever one makes of it, and it's certainly a legitimate area of exploration, discussion and debate. And that will continue, no doubt.
But the criticisms of Hillary Clinton and her ties to Wall Street, and all the money that she made giving these speeches and so forth, the single-biggest obstacle, other than their sex, to the success of women presidential candidates was their inability to raise funds, to have a sufficient war chest to compete for the presidency, which only became more and more difficult as the nature of American presidential politics changed and it cost millions of dollars.
When Victoria Woodhull ran for President in 1870, it was considered to be almost disqualifying for any candidate to go out on the hustings and ask for votes. And so, they described Greeley as the great office beggar because he went to Hartford, Connecticut, and gave a speech saying, "Maybe if you found me worthy, you might cast your vote for my party." That was seen as unseemly. The ideal candidate waited in the wings to be tapped by the party, and then was kind of wheeled out onto the stage and then became the standard-bearer.
Woodhull took a different approach because she knew she was dealing with the resistance to the idea of a woman President. So she founds her own newspaper to promote her candidacy. She's not going to leave it to the press; she's going to tell her own story, and she did. And she had the money to self-finance. But it didn't cost anything, not much anyway in those days.
In the case of Margaret Chase Smith, there were very few primaries when she ran. But it still cost a fair amount of money to fly around the country. President Kennedy was flying around in his own airplane. In '64, she was competing against Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Cabot Lodge and Goldwater, all from family fortunes. And she had no money. And she would not accept any campaign contributions. If somebody sent her a single dollar, she would send it back with a letter – these letters are in her papers – saying, "Thank you, but I don't accept campaign donations."
And in the case of Shirley, Shirley was charging her campaign to her American Express card. And this at a time when people, her competitors, were spending about a million dollars apiece in primary runs. That's nothing compared to what they cost today. So by the late 20th century when Elizabeth Dole and Carol Moseley Braun run, we're talking about multimillions. And Elizabeth Dole was forced out over the inability to raise money.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And talked about it openly.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Yes, absolutely.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Now, the general sexism I mentioned. I just was disheartened –
I don't know why I should be surprised – that it's the same language today – "Oh, they're so weak." "Oh, we don't know if they have the stamina." "Just don't know if they're built to be able to make these decisions and be hard-nosed." All of that kind of language. I was interested that each of these women tried to make it clear to others about where they excel. So in the later two women, of course, Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm, they went right for committees that demonstrated, I guess it would be male committees, really, that "this is work I can do. And I am doing. And have done." And Victoria, just by virtue of her whole life, she had taken on those roles.
And yet, and still, the description came down to their weak stamina, inability to think these deep thoughts.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Yes, there's a certain amount of bias which, today, the public opinion polls suggest that Americans by overwhelming majority say that they have no problem with the idea of voting for a woman to be President of the United States. And that's a huge change from the 1930s, when these polls first began. Now the figures are upwards of 90%. And in fact, many people expressed their enthusiasm for the idea of voting for a woman President.
However, what we're seeing today is people are saying, "Yeah, I'm all for it. I just don't want this woman." And of course there are going to be people that aren't going to favor someone; why should they vote for someone simply for their sex without looking at their politics or party, what they represent, and so forth.
So that is a big, big sea change in the American public, in theory. But when it comes down to a real candidate, I think it's a little bit of a question mark about how that's going to go. Hillary Clinton got more votes in 2008 than any presidential candidate running in a primary of either sex ever got. Ever got. And that was extraordinary. It was very close between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in that election.
So one of the stories, Callie– I'm going on about this, but your question is stimulating in thinking about this. One of the stories is about the way in which Clinton has removed these obstacles. And that her candidacy, whatever one thinks of it, reflects the way in which a candidate has gotten to this point and has overcome what has held previous candidates back. The money is one. The national reputation, that's what Pat Schroeder and Carol Moseley Braun really had trouble with. They didn't have the name recognition, the profile that is required for someone to really be competitive for this office. It's not easy to get that, and to get out there and establish it.
And the party support within the Democratic or Republican Party apparatus, nobody wanted to put their money and their hopes and dreams and clout behind these women candidates because there was a bias against them. Why would you support a surefire loser?
So in a sense, Clinton's candidacy weaves together these various themes, including the role that Margaret Chase Smith got into national politics because of her husband. I would wager that we wouldn't have presidential candidate Hillary Clinton without her husband's political career and the two terms that she served as First Lady. It's come with a lot of baggage, but it's also come with some assets for her.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: What do you think the assumptions by the general public are about women as presidential candidates? And how does your book and what you've uncovered in that or maybe support what you think the general public comes away with?
Just as a thought, whether it's correct or not.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think that one thing that has historically been a concern, women in political life in American history, at least from the early 20th century onward, and particularly in the early 20th century, had been strongly associated with the issue of pacifism. And that was a negative. Because the American presidency, the head of state in our country also involves being commander in chief, and has this military component. That was a nexus that needed to be broken, in theory. A candidate would have to, in other words, address that to be persuasive that you– and this becomes all the more true once we get into the nuclear age.
And so, Geraldine Ferraro was memorably asked when she was picked as Mondale's vice presidential candidate on Meet the Press, "Would you be able to push the nuclear button?" And she responded to her interlocutor by saying, "Would you be asking me that question if I was not a woman?" And so, the assumption was that women were unlikely to have either the know-how or whatever it takes to bring our nation into a war.
Margaret Chase Smith served on the Armed Services Committee in part, I think, to show that– and she was actually very hawkish in her foreign policy views, very prointervention. Stood by the Johnson and Nixon administrations' conduct and leadership of the Vietnam War long after even the administrations themselves were backpedaling.
So this is a paradox I think about Hillary Clinton's vote for the Iraq war which damaged her in 2008 and remains an issue in this election among progressives who really are uneasy about her hawkish tendencies. But what's fascinating about her in 2008, the public opinion polls showed that she got better scores, and did today in a poll that CNN released today, was ranked higher as a potential commander in chief than her male competitors, both in 2008 and in 2016. And that I think partly comes from her role as Secretary of State, obviously, and from the very thing that makes some liberals uneasy about her.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: There are a few quirky things in here. Again, there they are in history and we're still dealing with them. I'm reminded of the lean-in talk by Sheryl Sandberg when she, if you've heard it, she talks about going to this high level meeting and she's the only woman in the room. And she realizes she's the only woman in the room and they take a break, and she says, "Where's the ladies room?" And there's this big silence. And she realizes there's never been a woman in the room before so they've never had to answer that question.
And in your book, I learned that Margaret Chase Smith never said anything about the [inaudible] she was the only woman Senator. She used the public restroom.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: She did, and she would stand in long lines of visitors who had come to Washington to see the halls of Congress, and so forth. And there was a men's room right off the floor of the Senate for the convenience of the male members of Congress. In her case, she either used the public restroom or took a long walk back to her office to use the restroom there. Never raised the issue. Never complained about it. And this was very much her style.
Since we're in the Kennedy Library, there's a wonderful anecdote. I found a document in her papers, which was a letter from Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary saying that she had been invited to a social, an event, a dinner dance at the White House. It was a dinner. And the note said, "Mrs. Kennedy wants you to know that there's going to be dancing after the dinner. And if you would like to bring a male escort with you to the evening, please give us his name and we'll send an invitation to him." And attached to that carbon copy from Mrs. Kennedy's secretary is Margaret Chase Smith's response, in which she thanks her profusely for this note and says, "This is the kindest thing that anyone has ever done in my 25 years in Washington," that no one had ever thought to ask her if she wanted to bring a man with her to any of these events.
So her style was to not make a big deal of this, fly under the radar. She didn't call out discrimination. Shirley took a different tack. [laughter]
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Shirley was like, "I'm going to tell you about it right now." ELLEN FITZPATRICK: She definitely was. It was super refreshing to get to her.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So I'm always curious, I told you there were these surprising things that I ran across in the book. What surprised you in each of their stories, if there was anything, that you as someone who was really quite steeped in history – and a lot of women's history in other places you've dealt with – about these three women and their quest for the presidency?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I learned a tremendous amount. One of the things that surprised me was how much I came to like and admire all three of them even though in two out of the three– well, I would say I would not– I remember when I was a little girl knowing about Margaret Chase Smith and being disappointed because she was a Republican. [laughter] And I had been told by my parents, "We're Democrats and we never vote for Republicans. Ever." So I was disappointed. Because I thought, Oh, this is really great. I think my father said, "No, she's not that great." [laughter] Because she was a Republican. It's the kind of woman that I think he would have admired otherwise, and perhaps did.
And so, as I came to know each of these figures, I had tremendous admiration for their courage and their convictions and really the life that they led and the difficulties that they had overcome.
And in the case of Shirley Chisholm, I knew a fair amount about Shirley. She was certainly a figure in American politics in a time when I was paying attention to these things. But I hadn't really known much about her early life. And I was really moved by her incredible determination and, again, her courage. And also, particularly by her family, her parents, who really had to struggle economically to keep their family afloat, and who were absolutely determined to see that their daughters were educated – they had three daughters – to make sure they were all educated. And they aspired to be able to buy their own home in Brooklyn, and they met that goal as well. Just the whole trajectory of her life, along with the events of the 20th century, I found it extremely moving.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: So we should mention that after you profile the three, there's a short chapter on Hillary Clinton's quest, which is still, of course, as we know, unfinished. But you, as much as an historian can– this is almost like journalism now for you, because you like hundreds of years of history before you write anything about it.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Yes.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Talk about what you wanted to do by having that chapter there.
Couldn't ignore, I guess.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I wanted to bookend. The book begins with Hillary Clinton in 2008, and I begin with this anecdote of her giving a talk in New Hampshire when these fellows showed up who had been actually deployed by a Boston radio station and held up the signs. They were hecklers. They stood up in the middle of this campaign appearance of hers with these signs that said "iron my shirt" and kind of chanted that a couple of times. And she handled it quite adroitly. She laughed it and said, "Oh, the remnants of sexism alive and well." So that's where I began.
And then, I go back at the end of the book to her candidacy. And the last line of the book, which a friend of mine who's an historian said, "What did you mean by that? I don't quite get that." And I said, "Really? I think it's great. I've got to keep it." I end by saying that "the quest had become now a political contest." So these enormous obstacles, these incredible heights that had to be scaled to even get women taken seriously as presidential contenders, in 2016 we're now at a point where there was a woman who was competitive in this race, who maybe will win, maybe won't, maybe will be nominated, maybe won't. But it may have been overly optimistic. I guess we'll know as we go along, because we are seeing some persistence of some of these biases. Which I think is inevitable; certainly we have seen throughout President Obama's efforts to become President and throughout his presidency the more than vestiges of racism.
So these things don't disappear. But when you have a candidate who is in the mix and competitive, it's a different story.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Let me just add to that and ask– obviously if she wins that's a given historic. But if she doesn't win, but she becomes the Party's nominee– so she becomes the Party's nominee and she doesn't win, that's a huge leap from the other women that you've profiled here who could never get the sanctioning, the support of the Party, really.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: This is a critical point that you have raised here. Because as an historian, as I watch the events unfolding today, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to say that this is a reason why someone should or should not vote for Hillary Clinton, but anyone who thinks that there's some pipeline full of creditable people who is coming up behind her is deluding themselves. Because this candidate, Clinton, has put together, in a kind of remarkable way, pieces of this longer story, has overcome certain obstacles, has exploited other opportunities. There are a series of things that have come together in her case that we will not soon see, in my opinion, from another candidate.
I have a little passage where I lay this out. May I read this? Because I don't think I can say it as well as I wrote it.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Quote yourself, go ahead.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: It's an occupational hazard. Here's the critical passage. And I'm talking about her emerging as a leading figure in the 2008 race.
"Clinton owed that status to a remarkable convergence of forces that made her uniquely well suited to come within striking distance of the presidency. Less radical than
Woodhull, she had nonetheless been supported in her aspirations by a women’s movement whose origins reach back into the 19th century. She had benefited from the challenges Shirley Chisholm and other dedicated feminists, civil rights activists and radicals of her era had posed to the Democratic Party. She had parlayed the traditional role of First Lady into a long and admittedly turbulent courtship with the American people, who came to know her as the bright, embattled and ultimately resilient wife of an enduringly popular, despite his many difficulties, two-term President.
"She had then shown the mettle to compete for national office in a political climate in which she was variously bloodied, mocked and celebrated. Her access to money, power and patronage was unrivaled for a female candidate in the 20th century. It was still not enough in 2008. But in defeat, she joined her opponent's administration, and in so doing she gained experience and a Cabinet post that had led six previous Secretaries of State –
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin van Buren and James Buchanan – to the presidency."
So the point simply being that whatever one's opinions of Hillary Clinton, the notion that it is easy to put together and to overcome these extraordinary obstacles that had prevented other women from ascending in national politics, if you look at this history closely, you won't feel super reassured that there's a very full pipeline.
That's not to say, though, that somebody can't come out of the shadows into it. But it doesn't happen very often. And when it looks easy, even when it looks easy with somebody like President Kennedy who just had such extraordinary– he was a perfect candidate, for example, to be the first television President – charismatic, young, extremely articulate, and so forth. That was also an extremely arduous climb for him to overcome the prejudices against him as a Roman Catholic, and so forth.
So none of these people just pop out of the pumpkin patch.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: And what we would say is also that you know that what comes through with all of these wonderful, rich biographies that you've drawn and their careers and their quest, is that these women have to be a certain kind of unique to pull it off and to keep pushing. So these three, and possibly four, out of these 200, they're all saying something. And as we know, well-behaved women seldom make history, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has told us.
All right, now it's your time to ask question of Ellen Fitzpatrick. And you can go to the microphone. And we're talking about questions, because I like questions, and so does she.
We're not going to take the comments; we want the questions. So I invite you.
Q: Thank you both. That was terrific. [applause]
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Thank you.
Q: Spending a lot of time lately on websites that do political things. Don't even know what their background is. RealClearPolitics, FiveThirtyEight, different ones that do that. I don't think it's my imagination that I'm seeing three or four articles about the GOP race and Trump to every one about Hillary Clinton's successes, or even the Democratic race in general. Just your take on that.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: There's no question about it that in some ways the process that began with the election of President Kennedy in 1960, when television for the first time really becomes a very powerful variable in American presidential politics, we're seeing the culmination of that, it seems to me, of this kind of media-saturated age in the current election as well.
And clearly, Mr. Trump is absolutely irresistible copy in a news market, really, a media market that requires a constant infusion, daily. We've got a 24-hour news cycle. We have these cable news programs that are constantly looking for material. They've got to engage the viewers. They've got to keep the advertisers happy. And this is all coming together in a way that I guess Marshall Mcluhan warned us about and we might have expected.
So it's certainly true. And I'm not sure there's any– I have no answers about what can or should be done about it, but it's clearly the case.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Just on our part, the journalists' part, we're doing a lot of introspection now about how do you handle a candidate who is very media savvy? And Donald Trump is very media savvy. He knows when to speak, what to say at what time, to get a certain amount of coverage. So there you go. Yes, sir?
Q: Hillary Clinton not only supported the illegal invasion of Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands, she also supported, the last time she was in the White House, the sanctions which the UN Rapporteurs described as genocide.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Your question?
Q: She supported the bombings in Libya–
CALLIE CROSSLEY: What is your question?
Q: –supported the bombings in Kosovo.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: What's your question?
Q: Just give me a minute. Can we really afford to put someone back in the White House on the backs of the dead Iraqi, Yemeni, Libyan, Palestinian and other women that Hillary Clinton is responsible for, especially since she's probably very likely to do it again.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Okay, we've got it.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Let me speak to the gentleman's question here, which is that there's no question that anyone who has expected that women who enter political life, as some did early on– there was an argument when women's suffrage was first being debated in which some women who advocated suffrage argued– there were arguments of equality and there arguments of difference. And those who made arguments of difference said that if women entered American political life, if they entered national politics, if they held office, that they would improve the political conversation. They would improve our society. They would move our country towards great equality, towards the values of peace, and a whole series of attributes that one might traditionally have associated with women just because they were women. These are stereotypical ideas.
And others argued that women should be given the vote and allowed to participate in politics, simply on the basis of equality. And they said, "Don't expect anything different. They're not going to be different than men as voters or as politicians."
And so, I think that your question accents that very point, that simply having a woman holding office, whether it's Secretary of State, whether it's President, whether it's Senator casting a vote for a war– Jeannette Rankin, who was a Congresswoman from Wyoming, who voted against the First and the Second World War, when I was a college student, she came to my college, to Hampshire College. And she seemed ancient to me at the time.
She was probably about 10 years older than I am now. [laughter] But she was a remarkable woman who had had an entire career as a pacifist. And she came out of that earlier generation. And that is no longer the case.
So I think your question underscores the fact that we talked about at the very beginning of our conversation, that simply voting for someone because they're a woman, or you have prejudices that you vote only for men, isn't a very helpful or responsible way to exercise a ballot. And clearly, people have different views on the subject. And the voters ultimately will decide.
Q: What do you think about the potential viability of Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Warren? And I do have a brief comment for the audience. The reaction to the last person who made a question reminds me of how some of the Trump audiences behave. So please be respectful.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think that these are really tough issues that all Americans are dealing with today. And we're living in some ways in very terrible times of tremendous conflict and absolutely horrible atrocities, that one would hope the old ideas of history as a story of progress, one has to question that when you see the world we live in today.
And so, Michelle Obama is a very, very impressive woman. I was thinking recently about the Obama family, period. There's not been a hint of any scandal. They just have behaved at a very challenging moment with such incredible grace, it seems to me, in this very public and high profile position that the President has occupied; and the President's family is obviously cast in that glare. But Michelle Obama said the other day, "No, no, no." I believe that woman when she says whatever she says. [laughter]
And Elizabeth Warren, she's an interesting figure, but I was thinking about her, too, that she– the thing about Clinton, that made this point in the debate the other night, that she has– I guess there's some things we still may not know about her, but we certainly know a lot about Hillary Clinton and all of the investigations and the coverage of her and so forth. So Elizabeth Warren has all that to go through. We saw a hint of it when she was running in Massachusetts.
And I was listening tonight that I guess Trump has raised this question about her claiming Native American roots. So there's a whole new can of– not can, a whole cannery of worms to be explored with all of these candidates. It's true for men as well as women, of course. But I think the rarity of the women presidential candidates, in this history that I've described, puts that in a particular cast.
So yeah, there are undoubtedly some good people out there. And they're going to face– I don't know, who would subject themselves to this?
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I don't know, I wouldn't.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I said the other day to someone– I guess the Globe quoted "they're not your average bears," none of these people, men or women, who aspire to the presidency. Tremendous drive and ego involved in it.
Q: There are many, many countries that have had successful women leaders, prime ministers, other positions. Some of those countries have actually less women's rights than we do. Why are we so far behind, do you think?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Yeah, this is a question that I'm always asked. And I'm really sorry to say that I have not a great answer to it, in that it's something that is really quite fascinating. And I've talked to lots of people about it, to get their point of view. And I've had some interesting responses.
It seems to me that one issue has to do with the point that I raised earlier, which is that in a parliamentary system where some women have succeeded one is voting for a party, and women have managed rather than the singular focus on the candidate, as is the case in the American system. So the Conservative Party comes in and Margaret Thatcher is the leader of the party. That's a different thing than voting for Margaret Thatcher, per se.
You're voting for the political party.
They have also arisen in some countries through dynastic means – the Gandhis would be an example of this. So you have in the European setting the issue of the different parliamentary system. There's also in the United States the conjoining of the head of state with the commander in chief role, which has accented the military dimensions of the job.
And not unique to the United States, but an important part of the story as well.
So these I think maybe point in the direction of what you're asking, but I'm not sure the answer. Although that's the best I can do on it.
Q: If Margaret Chase Smith was running today, how do you think she would do? And secondly, didn't Barbara Jordan consider a candidacy?
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Barbara Jordan may have had her name placed in nomination, I think, in fact. She was a wonderful and really impressive woman. I think that had she not become ill, she would have been a very important, even more important voice in American politics.
I would think that the Republican Party, moderates and liberals, would love to see Margaret Chase Smith today. She would have much greater success in 2016 than she did in 1964. She represents a kind of dying breed of the New England liberal Republican that was once so influential in the Republican Party. But she was also, as I mentioned earlier, she was quite aggressive about American military power. My previous questioner would have similar criticisms to make about her foreign policy views. She, I think, would do quite well, would be my guess. She'd be competitive in a way that she wasn't in '64.
Q: I wanted to take a stab at the press question again, because you're both here, and historically you've seen how the press can ruin campaigns, both by gossip and tabloidism. So why can't the press ignore Trump? Knowing it's not all news. Why isn't the press doing better news? Why do I see the same story on four major stations – CNN, NBC, PBS? Why can't you go out and do another story? Or why can't you say, Well, we did Trump five times yesterday, so we're going to make sure we do these five candidates today. Because even the Republicans and Democrats are not being focused on. All it is Trump, Trump, Trump.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: I began by saying that he's quite media savvy. And how he laid his groundwork to date was early on when everybody – and I mean that everybody – in the press corps was laughing at the possibility that he would be taken seriously. And during that time period, he was always available. Always available. He called in every morning, every day. He's on Twitter. A lot of these candidates are not on Twitter. And believe it or not, even though other candidates say they want press, it's very difficult to get to them. You've got to go through layers of organization. As he said about his own foreign policy the other day, it's just him. So he's available to talk to you about whatever. And you can change the subject on him. You could throw stuff out. He's always available.
Now, I think that was the point, to stop letting him just eat up airtime in the morning, whether you are amused by him or not, because if in fact – let's just take away whether or not you thought he was interesting and entertaining and not serious – but if he was going to be a candidate, and certainly after he announced he was one, not even an issue of fair time, to me. So you have to limit him, even if you can't get access to the other people, I think, as a matter of fairness.
But nobody was looking at the bigger picture. And then as it started getting serious with these primaries that he's winning, and other stuff is popping up, then now, unfortunately, my group was saying, Oh, oh, maybe we should have started pushing back on asking some questions here or there, whatever.
Why can't it happen now? Well, now he's a big story. There are other stories to do, but if you're dealing with someone who knows exactly when to put something out that would be picked up– now, you can argue whether or not everything he does should be covered. I've argued, no, it shouldn't. But it's really hard for competitive news teams to say, We're just not going to cover that.
My argument is: if you think you're going to miss something, go tape it all and then make a determination about whether you want to air it. But in these days and times, with cutbacks and realities as they are, if you're taping it, you're probably going to use it. I'm just being real with you.
Now, what can change that? All of you. You have to stop viewing it. Stop staying it. Complain about it. People do pay attention to that. And you have other access to the traditional media to make your feelings known about it. But as long as you watch it and quote it, they're going to keep doing exactly what's happening now. Because it's working.
There's a reason that Donald Trump said, "How many millions do you get from my being in a debate?" He was right about that. I mean, CNN and MSNBC essentially said that, "We're getting a lot of money from people watching this."
So part of that's your responsibility, part of it's our responsibility, and we have to meet somewhere in the middle. But I can tell you from the beginning, he was getting away with murder because nobody else was talking and he just took up all the space. And people thought it was funny. Now that is a very sad state of affairs, I am saying. But just telling you.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think it would be a worse state of affairs if we didn't have journalists who could interrogate these figures that are so adept at exploiting modern forms of media as well. And we may wish, and undoubtedly do, that at times the media do a better job than they do instead of just simply giving airtime to allow someone to pontificate, that they really press them pretty hard, as they have I think in many of these debates, which really are extremely helpful, I think, for voters to see them pressed.
Ronald Reagan was himself an actor. He had tremendous skills in this regard. So really, again, here we are at the Kennedy Library, starting from 1960 forward this has been a growing important reality in American national politics. And there are many elements of it that are lamentable, but without the media to challenge these airbrushed candidates who are extremely skilled – I'm not naming any names – at exploiting modern mass media, I think we'd be in much worse shape.
So not all the news programs are like Callie's and other programming that really takes this apart. But we're certainly lucky to have that and need to support it.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: Well, Ellen Fitzpatrick's book is fabulous. We've not even touched on some of the other stuff you'll want to read about as she signs books after this wonderful talk. Please join me in thanking her.
ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Thank you, Callie.