Return to Politics


The Women Who Ran for President by Jo Freeman

Long before women could vote they ran for public office, including the highest office -- the Presidency of the United States. They ran for the same reason that men run who don't have a chance: because a Presidential candidacy is a great platform from which to talk about issues and sometimes just to talk about yourself. Two women put themselves forward for the Presidency in the Nineteenth Century. None did so in the Twentieth before 1964. Between 1964 and 2004 over fifty women were on at least one ballot as candidates for President, both as minor party candidates and as candidates in primaries for the nomination of the Republican or Democratic parties. Only a few of these women were noticed by the national press. In 1987 and 1999 two women who had established their credentials as political professionals tested the waters of the major parties, but decided they were too chilly because adequate funds were not available. Not until the Twenty-First Century were women's names being "floated" as possible Presidential candidates who had not yet indicated an interest in running.

Who were these women and why did they run?


  • 1964 is the first year in which any woman had her name on a ballot as a President. (In the 19th century, voters cast tickets prepared by the parties rather than marked ballots prepared by the state).
  • Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (ME) was the first and also the most successful woman to run for the Republican nomination for President. In the 1964 primaries, she received 83,571 votes in five states and at the convention she got 22 delegate votes from 4 states.
  • Rep. Shirley Chisholm, (NY) was the most successful, and almost the first, woman to run for the Democratic nomination. (Another woman ran in the 1964 Indiana Democratic primary). She was the first African-American to run for the Democratic nomination but not the first African-American to run for President. She received over 400,000 votes in 14 primaries, and 151.95 delegate votes from 26 states at the 1972 Democratic Convention.
  • Charlene Mitchell was the first African-American to run for President, at the head of the 1968 Communist Party ticket. She received 1,075 votes from four states. She was also the first woman to have her name on the general election (i.e. November) ballot.
  • The only other woman to campaign in the Democratic primaries who received delegate votes at the convention was Ellen McCormack, who got 27 delegate votes from 5 states in 1976.
  • A few women who did not run in the primaries for President have also received a few delegate votes at the Democratic Convention. Barbara Jordan, 1 in 1976; Koryne Horbal, 5 in 1980; Martha Kirkland, 1 in 1984; Patricia Schroeder, 8 in 1992.
  • Pat Schroeder raised $872,462 in anticipation of her 1988 campaign -- more money than any other potential female candidate for the Democratic nomination. She dropped out after three months and her name was not on the ballot in any of the primaries.
  • Carol Mosely Braun raised $627,869 for her 2004 campaign -- more money than any other woman whose name was on a Democratic primary ballot. Although she dropped out after the first primary, she received 103,205 votes from 13 states. (Chisholm estimated that she raised about $300,000, but in 1972 candidates weren't required to keep good records and make reports).
  • Elizabeth Dole raised over five million dollars while exploring a race for the 2000 Republican nomination. She was the most successful fundraiser of all the female candidates, but since she dropped out early, her name was not on any ballot.
  • Lenora Fulani was the most successful female minor party candidate. Her name was on the ballot in 51 jurisdictions in 1988 and 48 in 1992. No other woman running for President, whether in a primary or a general election, has had her name on as many different ballots.
  • At least four African-American women have had their names on a Democratic Presidential primary ballot: Shirley Chisholm in 1972; Lenora Fulani in 1992; Mildred Glover and Carol Mosely Braun in 2004. (There may be more since it is hard to determine the race of all 22)
  • One Asian-American woman has had her name on a Democratic Presidential primary ballot: Patsy Mink in 1972.
  • At least one African-American woman has had her name on a Republican Presidential primary ballot: Isabell Masters in 1988, 1992, and 1996. (There may be more).
  • At least five African-American women have had their names on the general election ballot for President: Charlene Mitchell, Communist Party, 1968; Margaret Wright, People's Party, 1976; Lenora Fulani, New Alliance Party, 1988 and 1992; Isabell Masters, Looking Back Party, 1992 and 1996; Monica Moorehead, Workers World Party, 1996 and 2000. (There may be more)
  • Isabell Masters has had her name on a ballot for President in more years than any other woman: Republican primary in 1988, 1992 and 1996; Looking Back Party in 1992 and 1996.
  • Mary Jane Rachner is the only woman to have her name on a Republican primary ballot in one year (1988) and a Democratic primary ballot in another (1992).
  • The woman on the most Republican Party primary ballots was Tennie Rogers, who was on nine state ballots in 1992. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith was only on five Republican primary ballots in 1964, though she got ten times more votes than Rogers.
  • The woman whose name was on the most Democratic Party primary ballots was Ellen McCormack -- 18 state ballots in 1976. The second most successful was Shirley Chisholm (who got twice the votes).
  • Ellen McCormack was the only woman seeking a major party nomination to receive federal matching funds. She was one of three women in four presidential cycles to receive federal matching funds for seeking the nomination of their party. They other two were: Sonia Johnson for the Citizens Party nomination in 1984; Lenora Fulani, for the New Alliance Party nomination in 1988 and 1992.

Copyright © 2006 by Jo Freeman

To Top
Books by Jo | What's New | About Jo | Photos | Political Buttons
Home | Search | Links | Contact Jo | Articles by Jo