When Walter Mondale announced Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate during the 1984 presidential campaign, the three-term New York Congresswoman called the historic choice a "powerful signal" to all Americans.
“There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on achievement. If we can do this, we can do anything,” Ferraro said July 19, 1984, during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
The first woman to be named a vice-presidential candidate for a major party, Ferraro, who died in 2011 at age 75 from complications due to multiple myeloma, remains one of three women, along with Republican Sarah Palin, in 2008, and Democrat Kamala Harris, in 2020, to receive such a nomination.
Hillary Clinton, in 2016, became the first, and only, woman to receive a presidential nomination by a major party. Margaret Chase Smith, who ran for the Republican nomination in 1964, was the first woman whose name was placed in nomination at a major political party convention. And Shirley Chisholm, in 1972, was the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination and the first Black candidate to run for a major party's nomination.
READ MORE: ‘Unbought and Unbossed’: Why Shirley Chisholm Ran for President
Ferraro’s Nomination Boosted Mondale’s Ticket
Down 16 points in the polls when Mondale named Ferarro, then 48, his vice president pick, the excitement surrounding the nomination gave the new ticket a big bounce, bringing the polling to nearly even with Republican challengers Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George H.W. Bush.
“The Ferraro pick represented the intersection of principle and politics,” says Joel K. Goldstein, vice-presidential historian, professor of law emeritus at St. Louis University and author of The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden. “Walter Mondale's public service was dedicated to opening doors for disadvantaged groups and he constructed his VP selection process consistent with that commitment.”
While previously the only diversity question for the office had been “whether to choose a Catholic for the ticket,” according to Goldstein, Mondale interviewed three women for the job: Ferraro, Mayor Diane Feinstein of San Francisco and Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins. He also considered two African Americans and one Latino mayor, as well as more conventional candidates including Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. Gary Hart and Gov. Mike Dukakis.
“Mondale took a lot of heat for considering people who did not have conventional experience but he recognized that since women and other minorities had been excluded from participating at the highest levels of national electoral and appointive service, one had to seek talent in less conventional ways,” Goldstein says. “Ferraro was a three-term representative who was seen as a rising star in the party. Choosing the first woman for a national ticket was consistent with Mondale's commitments and represented a strategic effort to remake the electoral map.”
In his 2010 book, The Good Fight, Mondale wrote that he thought Ferraro would be “an excellent vice president and could be a good president. … I also knew that I was far behind Reagan, and that if I just ran a traditional campaign, I would never get in the game.”
He added that his wife, Joan, urged him to select a woman as vice president. “Joan thought we were far enough along in the movement for women’s rights that the political system had produced plenty of qualified candidates, and she thought voters were ready for a ticket that would break the white-male mold,” Mondale wrote.
Janine Parry, professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, director of the Arkansas Poll and co-author of Women's Rights in the USA, says Ferraro acknowledged and embraced the fact that gender was the central reason for the choice.
“Feminists of the period, having identified a ‘gender gap’ in men’s and women’s partisan preferences just a few years earlier, pressed Mondale hard for a female running mate,” she says. “Getting a woman on a major party’s ticket was important to feminists on its face, but it also served to differentiate the Democratic platform from Republican one, which had taken a sharp right turn on both social and economic issues under Ronald Reagan.”
WATCH: ‘The Presidents’ on HISTORY Vault
Voter Reactions to the Nomination
Upon the Ferraro announcement, Time magazine ran her on its cover with the headline, “A Historic Choice.” Ann Richards, then state treasurer of Texas, who would go on to serve as governor, said at the time, “The first thing I thought of was not winning, in the political sense, but of my two daughters. To think of the numbers of young women who can now aspire to anything!”
Goldstein calls it a “euphoric moment in American politics.”
“The initial response at the pre-convention rollout and to her acceptance speech helped tighten the race and bring Mondale-Ferraro into a competitive position in the polls,” he says.
But Ferraro faced challenges, the biggest of which were being a woman and long-held stereotypes of masculine leaders, says Nichole Bauer, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University.
"Voters associate leadership, especially at the presidential level, with masculinity, and this includes having masculine traits like being tough, aggressive and assertive; and, being an expert on masculine issues like national security, the military and defense," she says.
Throughout the campaign, according to Bauer, the news media, voters and Bush, her vice president opponent, questioned Ferraro’s ability to meet these expectations.
In researching news coverage of Ferraro during the campaign for her book The Qualifications Gap: Why Women Must Be Better than Men to Win Political Office, Bauer says she found quotes from voters in news articles that said things like, “I don’t trust the woman. She’s gotten very emotional about a lot of things already, and there’s going to be lots worse to come.”
"These sorts of statements reflect a stereotypic belief that women are too emotional for political office, and that political leaders should be firm and stoic," Bauer says.
But, Bauer adds, she doesn't think having Ferraro on the ticket hurt Mondale’s campaign in the end. "Voters tend to vote for the top slot (president) and not the VP pick in the end," she says. "To be sure, he was facing steep odds with Reagan in 1984 given the economic improvements over the last four years and Reagan’s popularity."
Ferraro addressed that herself in a 1988 letter to The New York Times. “Throwing Ronald Reagan out of office at the height of his popularity, with inflation and interest rates down, the economy moving and the country at peace, would have required God on the ticket,” she wrote, “and She was not available!”
Scrutiny Over Ferraro’s Finances
While feminists were thrilled with the Ferraro pick, and, overall, voters seemed to receive her positively, most forecasters still saw little hope for a Democratic win.
“Of course, in hindsight, it’s clear that—not unlike the McCain-Palin Hail Mary of 2008—Ferraro might have been better vetted by the Democrats’ national leadership,” Parry says. “But it’s equally clear—also like Palin—that she was subjected to a kind of hard-edged scrutiny that wouldn’t have been leveled at a man.”
At issue: Ferraro and her real estate developer husband John Zaccarro filed separate tax returns, and Zaccarro refused to make his returns public.
“Republicans went after Ferraro by attacking her husband,” Goldstein says. “Mr. Zaccaro resisted disclosing aspects of his finances on the grounds that it would be harmful to his business dealings. The issue took some of the lustre off Rep. Ferraro and Mondale was put in a terrible position as it dragged on because he couldn't press Ferraro to accomplish the financial disclosures although that was needed to move the campaign past the issue.”
Ultimately, Ferraro answered an onslaught of media questions, with no improprieties unearthed. The couple did pay the IRS $53,459 in back taxes.
“There was nothing in it all that was even close to disqualifying regarding Rep. Ferraro,” Goldstein says. “But the attacks had tarnished her brand.”
On Election Day, Reagan trounced Mondale, with the former vice president winning just his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Later, Ferraro wrote in her memoir, My Story, that while more Republican women turned out to vote than Democrats, she didn’t think that affected the results. “It demeans women to think that they would vote in a mindless block just because of their gender—or a candidate’s gender,” she wrote.
READ MORE: 5 Vice Presidential Picks That Made History
The Mondale-Ferraro ticket may have lost, but Ferraro’s nomination certainly had a role-modeling effect on women, according to Bauer.
“Just eight years after Ferraro’s nomination was the first ‘year of the woman’ when record numbers of women swept into congress in 1992, and many of those women have spoken about being inspired by Ferraro to run for office,” she says.
Bauer says there is evidence that when women who aspire to run for political office, and see women in more high-profile roles being treated in a fairly sexist way, it can mobilize them to run for higher office or get involved in politics. “Ferraro’s nomination set the stage for a lot of future candidacies for women over the next few decades,” she adds.
Upon her death, then-President Barack Obama called Ferraro a trailblazer.
“Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live,” he wrote in a statement.
READ MORE: Women’s History Milestones
Ferraro acknowledged the progress of women in politics, as well.
“I've been saying for 24 years that women's candidacies—I'm not talking about me, specifically, or Hillary or Governor Palin—but women's candidacies have a larger effect,” she told Newsweek in 2008. “They are like tossing a pebble into a lake, because of all the ripples that go out from there. ... That was the impact of the '84 campaign, and they still go on.
“Just today, I met a Republican woman and she told me that she was in the tub when she heard I'd been nominated, and she started to cry. People responded in all kinds of different ways. Many women told me that it inspired them to go back to school and made a lot of women think about running for public office. Every time a woman runs, women win.”
Conventions In History: A Woman On The Ticket
“The stories of Geraldine Ferraro and Jesse Jackson tell us that in the long future power will be more avidly sought and more widely distributed among those who in the long past could only suffer its consequences.” --Tom Wicker, columnist for the New York Times
It made the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco historic. It electrified the delegates. Walter Mondale’s bold choice even raised hopes that the Democrats could win.
Geraldine Ferraro’s nomination as the first woman candidate for vice president opened what Maureen Dowd called an “etiquette gap.” How would Mondale cross it? What should he do with his hands? Should he open the door for her? Clap her on the back? Hey, is it OK to squeeze a woman’s bicep?
Poor Fritz. At their first meeting, an observer said he "looked like a teenager on his first date with that, 'How in the world do you pin the corsage on her?’ look."
Democrats were cautioned: Never say the ticket has "broad appeal."
Debate swirled over changing "running mate" to "running person."
The new etiquette required non-stereotypical behavior from both sexes, a point not lost on Ferraro: "I told my daughters, whatever you do, don’t cry."
Frank Mankiewicz, former president of NPR, warned the candidates never to be alone with each other: "Their spouses should always be present."
Whatever he does, a pollster insisted, "Mondale cannot kiss her."
Running persons typically hug with one arm while waving with the other. So after Mondale’s acceptance speech, when the ticket with …wide appeal appeared together on the Moscone Center platform, suspense ran high. Would they hug or just wave?
"Jimmy Carter never touched me," Mondale explained.
New York Times columnist Tom Wicker gave Mondale due credit: "The order of things—not just transient events but the human environment in which events take place—has been changed. Political decisions rarely accomplish anything that significant."
Destined to lose 49 states in the November election, Walter Mondale opened a door to the American future. Geraldine Ferraro walked through it. Jesse Jackson opened the door himself.
"Here in San Francisco the black son of a poor Southern sharecropper was not only put into nomination for President and given the votes of nearly 500 delegates—…he was a serious factor in the convention’s business, far more than a token candidate," Wicker wrote.
Too "incautious and challenging" to win the presidency himself, Jackson was likely "fated to have broken ground for …one of those estimable but calculating souls who usually make it to the White House."
As for Ferraro, her nomination "probably means a ‘woman on the ticket’ as a future fixture in both parties—so much so that women may have another recognition struggle ahead, to make it clear that they don’t want the Vice Presidency to become a sort of quota for their gender, beyond which they are not ‘ready’ to aspire."
Catching the moment’s meaning, the feminist icon Bella Abzug pulled a fat cigar out of her purse, twirled it before a reporter, and boasted "It’s a girl!"
Jack Beatty is On Point's news analyst.
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ST. PAUL, July 12 - Walter F. Mondale today named Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro of Queens as his running mate, the first woman selected to run for Vice President on a major party ticket. Mr. Mondale, the probable Democratic Presidential nominee, announced his historic step before an ebullient crowd at the State Capitol. He introduced Mrs. Ferraro by saying: &apos&aposI looked for the best Vice President and I found her in Gerry Ferraro.&apos&apos &apos&aposThis is an exciting choice,&apos&apos he said, with Mrs. Ferraro by his side.
She Breaks Into a Grin
The 48-year-old former teacher and assistant prosecutor from Queens broke into a wide grin as Mr. Mondale said, &apos&aposI&aposm delighted to announce that I will ask the Democratic convention&apos&apos to ratify her. Mr. Mondale said the decision to choose a woman was a &apos&aposdifficult&apos&apos one, but added: &apos&aposGerry has excelled in everything she&aposs tried, from law school at night to being a tough prosecutor to winning a difficult election, to winning positions of leadership and respect in the Congress.&apos&apos
Mr. Mondale said her political rise was &apos&aposreally the story of a classic American dream.&apos&apos
He Cites the Constitution
&apos&aposHistory speaks to us today,&apos&apos Mr. Mondale told the throng of state officials, supporters and journalists. &apos&aposOur founders said in the Constitution, &aposWe the people&apos - not just the rich, or men, or white, but all of us.&apos&apos
&apos&aposOur message,&apos&apos Mr. Mondale went on, &apos&aposis that America is for everyone who works hard and contributes to our blessed country.&apos&apos
Mrs. Ferraro, who was first elected to Congress in 1978, has received the endorsements for the Vice Presidency of Thomas P. O&aposNeill Jr., the Speaker of the House, Governor Cuomo of New York and a wide range of Democrats as well as feminists.
Democratic advisers to Mr. Mondale say that her selection was clearly a signal that Mr. Mondale wanted to focus, in part, on gathering support from blue-collar and trade union voters in such industrial states as New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio.
Increase in Energy Seen
&apos&aposShe&aposs a woman, she&aposs ethnic, she&aposs Catholic,&apos&apos said one adviser to Mr. Mondale. &apos&aposWe have broken the barrier. She will energize, not just women, but a lot of men who have fallen away from the Democrats.&apos&apos
Another adviser to Mr. Mondale said that although Mrs. Ferraro had scant foreign policy and national security experience, unlike Vice President Bush, the Queens Democrat &apos&aposbrings new chemistry, new passion, new unpredictability into the mix.&apos&apos
In her remarks today, an obviously moved Mrs. Ferraro spoke of her Italian immigrant family&aposs love for the United States, the concerns of her constituents in Queens and her selection by Mr. Mondale.
She began by saying: &apos&aposThank you, Vice President Mondale. Vice President - it has such a nice ring to it.&apos&apos She went on:
&apos&aposWhen Fritz Mondale asked me to be his running mate he sent a powerful signal about the direction he wants to lead our country.&apos&apos American history is about doors being open, doors of opportunity for everyone no matter who you are, as long as you &aposre willing to earn it.&apos&apos
&apos&aposThere&aposs an electricity in the air, an excitement, a sense of new possibilities and of pride,&apos&apos Mrs. Ferraro told the enthusiastic audience moments later.
Mr. Mondale&aposs aides said the former Vice President decided shortly before 6 P.M. Wednesday to choose Mrs. Ferraro.
&apos&aposHere goes,&apos&apos Mr. Mondale reportedly said as he phoned Mrs. Ferraro in San Francisco, where the Democratic convention starts Monday. With Peter Kyros, a Mondale aide, she later boarded a private jet at Oakland Airport for the late-night flight to the Twin Cities.
Mr. Mondale&aposs announcement came at noon here today before a brooding portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It was made in the same chamber where Mr. Mondale began his political career 23 years ago and where he started his Presidential drive in February 1983. Mr. Mondale formerly served as Minnesota Attorney General and as a United States Senator before Jimmy Carter chose him for Vice President in 1976. Plan Hometown Visit
Mr. Mondale and Mrs. Ferraro departed from the Mondale home in North Oaks for a family luncheon after today&aposs announcement. They were scheduled to travel on Friday to Elmore, Minn., where Mr. Mondale grew up, to make their first joint campaign appearance.
In the last three weeks Mr. Mondale interviewed seven prospective candidates and made it plain that he was seriously considering a break in precedent and selecting a woman or a member of a minority group instead of a white man.
Ranking aides to Mr. Mondale indicated last week that Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco had outdistanced Mrs. Ferraro in her personal interview with Mr. Mondale, as well as in her press comments afterward. Some aides said Mrs. Ferraro had proved somewhat disappointing, a comment that angered Mr. Mondale.
Factors in Choice Listed
What apparently swayed the Minnesotan, Democratic officials said, was Mrs. Ferraro&aposs experience in Congress, the considerable support for her among members of the party leadership and, perhaps most important, her appeal to blue-collar voters coupled with her traditional liberal views, which seem to coincide with Mr. Mondale&aposs.
Mrs. Ferraro had emerged in recent weeks as the strong favorite among feminists, especially officials of the National Organization for Women. But Democratic advisers to Mr. Mondale said the decision in favor of Mrs. Ferraro was based heavily on the notion that her political strength would enhance Mr. Mondale&aposs support in predominantly white, blue-collar and ethnic areas.
Mrs. Ferraro underscored today her beliefs in strong family and religious values.
Their Daughter With Them
&apos&aposThis choice says a lot about him, about where the country has come and about where we want to lead it,&apos&apos said Mrs. Ferraro, who was accompanied here by her husband, John Zaccaro, a real estate developer, and one of her three children, Laura, 18.
&apos&aposFritz called my road here the classic American dream,&apos&apos she said. &apos&aposHe&aposs right.&apos&apos
Mrs. Ferraro, who taught elementary school in Queens while attending Fordham Law School at night, noted that her father came from Marcianise, a small town in Italy.
&apos&aposLike millions of other immigrants he loved our country passionately but what he loved most about it was that in America anything is possible if you work for it,&apos&apos she said.
As Mr. Mondale listened intently, she said: &apos&aposI grew up among working people, straightforward solid Americans trying to make ends meet, trying to bring up their families and leave their country a little bit better off than when they moved here and found it. Those are my values, too.
&apos&aposI have a strong, loving family. And our neighborhood and our faith are important parts of our lives. So is our work.&apos&apos
&aposBig Stake&apos for New Yorkers
She added that the people of New York have a &apos&aposbig stake&apos&apos in the Presidential election, saying that voters were &apos&aposterrified&apos&apos about possible changes in the Medicare system, cuts in Social Security, college costs and unemployment.
&apos&aposAnd I know their fears about the future,&apos&apos she said. &apos&aposThey love America. They support a strong, sensible defense but they want nothing to do with reckless adventures in Latin America. And they want to get some talks going to stop this arms race before it destroys us all.&apos&apos
Mrs. Ferraro said that her friend, Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of Manhattan, phoned her earlier and said, &apos&aposGerry, my heart is full.&apos&apos
Geraldine Ferraro Broke A Barrier For Women, But Roadblocks Remain
Geraldine Ferraro, seen in 1984, was the first woman to run for U.S. vice president on a major party ticket.
Talking politics is, in some ways, like talking baseball. You talk about the history, the lore, the stats, the trivia. And you remember when barriers are broken.
So, just as Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the first African-American to break into the major leagues, you know that John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. Douglas Wilder of Virginia was the first black to be elected governor. And Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman named to a major-party presidential ticket.
Ferraro, picked in 1984 by Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale to be his running mate, died Saturday at age 75. The former three-term House member from Queens, New York, had long been suffering from multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
Saying that barriers have been broken does not mean that roadblocks are gone. Barack Obama's election as president in 2008 hardly means that racism has disappeared from the American scene. And while Ferraro's ascension to the ticket in 1984 (duplicated 24 years later by Republican Sarah Palin), as well as Hillary Clinton's strong bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, indicated a sea change for the political success of women, evidence of sexism still permeates political discourse.
But everybody who remembers the announcement made that summer day in 1984 immediately knew its significance. And it happened less than six years after she broke into electoral politics.
Geraldine Ferraro was an assistant district attorney in the borough of Queens when she decided to run for an open congressional seat in 1978. She had far less experience than the other Democrats who sought the nomination, but her Italian background and her familiar name — her cousin, Nicholas Ferraro, was the Queens D.A. — boosted her in both the primary and the general election. A strong advocate of abortion rights, she became an influential member of the House early in her career in 1981, she joined her party's leadership as secretary of the Democratic Caucus.
In the spring of 1984, she attained national prominence as chair of the Democratic Party platform committee. On July 12, Mondale made his historic announcement in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Some were dubious about the move, attributing it to Mondale's desire to "pander to pressure groups." Others were ecstatic. It's a "dream come true," effused Stephanie Solien of the Women's Campaign Fund. Gloria Steinem, a leading feminist, dismissed the doubters: "Half the human race is not a special interest." Ferraro, who liked to describe herself as a "Queens housewife," understood the importance:
"American history is about doors being opened, doors of opportunity for everyone no matter who you are, as long as you're willing to earn it."
The mood at the party convention four days later was electric from the start. To this day, I remember the tears of joy in the eyes of women everywhere in the hall at San Francisco's Moscone Center. But the euphoria did not last long questions about the financial transactions of her husband, real estate attorney John Zaccaro, dominated the news for weeks. In the end, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost 49 out of 50 states to the Republican ticket of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush.
Ultimately, having Ferraro on the ticket made little difference in the 1984 results. But it was clear that something important had transpired that day when Mondale made his historic selection.
Ferraro never attained high office again. In 1992 and again in 1998, she lost Democratic primaries in her bid to face GOP Sen. Al D'Amato. She appeared in a much-ridiculed commercial for Diet Pepsi.
In March 2008, she resigned from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, where she was part of the finance effort, when she in effect said that Barack Obama was doing very well in the primaries because he was black:
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
Ferraro accused her critics of a double standard on race:
"Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this [Obama] campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up," she told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif. "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"
What was Geraldine Ferraro's cause of death?
Ms Ferraro died, aged 75, in 2014.
She had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood cancer in 1998.
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MUM AT 11
Ms Ferraro only made her illness public in 2001, telling NBC’s Today show that the cancer was in remission.
After the cancer recurred, she again went into remission following therapy with a new drug.
She lived for another 12 years, despite being told she had three to five years left to live.
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Who was Geraldine Ferraro?
The Democrat hopeful was born in Newburgh, New York, in 1935, the daughter of Italian immigrants.
After graduating as a teacher, then a lawyer, and working as a prosecutor, she entered politics in 1978.
Ms Ferraro was elected to Congress three times, before being put forward as the Democrat's Vice President alongside Walter Mondale in the 1984 election campaign.
She said she was "flabbergasted and flattered" when told by an influential group of Democratic women that they felt she was the politician who had most voter appeal to help the party win the White House.
Mr Mondale asked her to be her running mate, making her the first ever US female Vice President nominee, 24 years before Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.
On the night she accepted the Democrat Party's nomination, she told supporters: “I stand before you to proclaim tonight, America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.”
Such was her popularity she received some 50,000 letters and gifts by election day.
But on voting day, Mr Mondale - who died aged 93 on April 19, 2021 - won only his home state of of Minnesota as well as Washington DC, securing just 13 electoral votes to President Ronald Reagan's record-breaking 525.
1 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?,” 23 July 1984, Newsweek. n.p.
2 “Congresswoman Ferraro: A Career of Rising from Nowhere,” 13 July 1984, Christian Science Monitor: 1.
3 Elisabeth Bumiller, “The Rise of Geraldine Ferraro,” 29 April 1984, Washington Post: K1.
4 Bumiller, “The Rise of Geraldine Ferraro.”
5 “Ferraro, Geraldine,” Current Biography, 1984 (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1984): 119.
6 Bumiller, “The Rise of Geraldine Ferraro.”
7 Almanac of American Politics, 1984 (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc., 1983): 805–806.
8 Current Biography, 1984: 119.
9 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?”
10 Current Biography, 1984: 119–120 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?” Bumiller, “The Rise of Geraldine Ferraro.”
11 Current Biography, 1984 John E. Farrell, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001): 644 “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens,” 13 July 1984, New York Times: A1.
12 Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
13 “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens.”
14 Garrison Nelson et al., Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947–1992 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1993): 293–294 Barbara Delatiner, “On the Isle,” 23 Nov. 1980, New York Times: LI26.
15 “Congresswoman Ferraro: A Career of Rising from Nowhere.”
16 Hedrick Smith, “Consistent Liberal Record in the House,” 13 July 1984, New York Times: A10 Current Biography, 1984: 120.
17 The Americans for Democratic Action compiled the cited score for Ferraro’s first term in Congress. See also Current Biography, 1984: 120 “Congresswoman Ferraro: A Career of Rising from Nowhere” “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens.”
18 “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens.”
19 “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens.”
20 “Ferraro: ‘I’d Quit’ If Faith, Duty Clash,” 12 September 1984 Washington Post: A8 “Woman in the News: Liberal Democrat from Queens.”
21 Quotation in Current Biography, 1984: 120. Chris Matthews, then an aide to Speaker O’Neill, reiterated Frank’s sentiments, writing in his 1988 book, Hardball, that the secret to Ferraro’s success was that, “she asked she received she became a player.” Chris Matthews, Hardball: How Politics Is Played, Told By One Who Knows the Game (New York: Perennial Library, 1988): 72.
22 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?”
23 Current Biography, 1984: 119.
24 “Is This the Year for a Woman VP?,” 27 March 1984, Christian Science Monitor: 18.
25 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?”
26 “A Team Player: Can a Liberal from Archie Bunker Country Make a Contender of Walter Mondale?”
27 Frank Lynn, “Carey’s Tactics Cut His Power at Convention,” 10 August 1980, New York Times: 33.
28 Current Biography, 1984: 120.
29 Bill Peterson and Alison Muscatine, “Pressure Increasing for Woman on Ticket,” 19 June 1984, Washington Post: A6 Current Biography, 1984: 119.
30 “Is This the Year for a Woman VP?”
31 Although Ferraro made history by becoming the first woman selected as the vice presidential nominee for a major party, President Gerald R. Ford considered two women as his Republican running mate in 1976: Anne Armstrong and Carla Hills. See Joseph Kraft, “Mr. Ford’s Choice,” 8 August 1976, Washington Post: 37 R. W. Apple Jr., “President Favors a Running Mate in the Middle of the Road,” 9 August 1976, New York Times: 1.
32 Farrell, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century: 644.
33 Current Biography, 1984: 119.
34 Thomas O’Neill and William Novak, Man of the House: The Life and Times of Speaker Tip O’Neill (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987): 358 see Joan A. Lowry, Pat Schroeder: A Woman of the House (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2003): 133–134.
35 Ralph Blumenthal, “Judge Sentences Zaccaro to Work in Public Service,” 21 February 1985, New York Times: A1.
36 Elaine Woo, “Geraldine Ferraro, 1935–2011: Broke Gender Barrier as VP Pick in 1984,” 27 March 2011, Chicago Tribune: 25.
37 Jim Dwyer, “Ferraro Is Battling Blood Cancer with a Potent Ally: Thalidomide,” 19 June 2001, New York Times: B1.
38 Woo, “Geraldine Ferraro, 1935–2011: Broke Gender Barrier as VP Pick in 1984” Martin Douglas, “She Ended the Men’s Club of National Politics,” 27 March 2011, New York Times: 1.
No Wrist Corsages, Please
Has America grown since 1984, or will the knives still be out for Biden’s running mate?
WASHINGTON — On the cusp of Joe Biden teaming up with a woman, I am casting back to my time covering the first woman who was a serious contender for veep.
The feminist fairy tale — which began with women crying and popping champagne on the convention floor in San Francisco in 1984 — had a sad ending. Cinderella with ashes in her mouth.
It’s hard to fathom, but it took another 36 years for a man to choose to put a woman on the Democratic ticket with him. To use Geraldine Ferraro’s favorite expression, “Gimme a break!”
After Walter Mondale picked Ferraro, a Queens congresswoman, the first man and woman to share a ticket had to consider all sorts of things: Could he kiss her on the cheek? (No.) Could he call her “dear” or “honey”? (No.) Could they hug? (No.) Could they tell jokes, as Johnny Carson did, about how angry Joan Mondale would be when her husband kept coming home late and saying he had been in private sessions with the vice president? (No.)
They wanted to be seen as peers, more TV anchor team than suburban couple. Mondale could not seem paternal or patronizing or use phrases like “a ticket with broad appeal.” Ferraro, who walked faster, had to stop bounding ahead of her running mate.
They knew that the way they conducted themselves would forever recast the perception of men and women in politics. So they were wary in the beginning.
As one Democratic consultant put it at the time, “He looked like a teenager on the first date with that ‘How in the world do you pin the corsage on her?’ problem.’’
Before a fund-raiser in New York once, a Democratic official presented Ferraro with a wrist corsage. She refused to put it on. “That I will not do,’’ she told the man politely.
Sometimes, the introductory music for the petite blonde was the 1925 ditty, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” One magazine hailed her as “America’s Bride.”
When the ticket headed South, Jim Buck Ross, Mississippi’s 70-year-old commissioner of agriculture, called the 48-year-old Ferraro “young lady” and asked if she could bake blueberry muffins.
Ferraro’s historic campaign was full of images never before seen on the presidential trail. As she went onstage, Gerry, as she was universally known, would hand off her pocketbook to an aide. Her charming press spokesman, Francis O’Brien, sometimes ironed her dresses — as her main foreign affairs adviser, Madeleine Albright, looked on.
It was fascinating to see age-old customs through the eyes of a woman candidate.
“People hand me their babies,’’ Ferraro marveled. “As a mother, my instinctive reaction is how do you give your baby to someone who’s a total stranger to kiss, especially with so many colds going around? And especially when the woman is wearing lipstick?”
It was the first time a candidate running for the White House had talked about abortion using the phrase, “If I were pregnant,” and about foreign policy with the phrase, “As the mother of a draft-age son.” The “smartass white boys” around Mondale, as many feminists called them privately, got nervous when she talked about being a mother. How could she be tough and a mother, they wondered, not seeing the obvious: Mothers are tougher than anyone. Fearing white male backlash, they tried to control her bouncy Queens persona.
Ferraro walked the same tightrope that tripped up Hillary Clinton when she wondered if she should wheel around in that debate and tell the creeping Donald Trump to scram.
If she got angry, would she seem shrill, that dread word, and turn off voters? The Mondale inner circle wanted Ferraro to play the traditional running-mate role of hatchet man. But Gloria Steinem warned, “Nothing makes men more anxious than for a woman to be masculine.”
George H.W. Bush excitedly proclaimed after his debate with Ferraro that he had tried to “kick a little ass” his press aide called Ferraro “bitchy” and Barbara Bush said Ferraro was a word that “rhymes with rich.”
What started as a goose bump blind date with history curdled, as Ferraro got dragged into a financial mess involving her husband’s real estate business.
Right after the Reagan landslide, Democrats began muttering about returning to white Anglo-Saxon men on the ticket and not having any more “feminized” tickets that didn’t appeal to them.
I called women across the country for a magazine autopsy I was writing and was shocked to hear how ambivalent women still were about a woman running the country.
A 36-year-old mother of three from Bristol, Tenn., told me: “I put myself in her shoes. Could I sit down and logically make decisions for everybody without cracking up? I think women in general are weak. I know that sounds awful. But we women know we have our faults.’’
The next year, Ferraro put out a memoir talking about how depressed and paranoid she got, and how much she cried, admitting that she was not “prepared for the depth of the fury, the bigotry, and the sexism my candidacy would unleash.”
She said that Mondale’s male aides were so condescending that she instructed them to “pretend every time they talk to me or even look at me that I’m a gray-haired Southern gentleman, a senator from Texas.” (In her memoir, Sarah Palin aimed her sharpest barbs at John McCain’s aides.)
We don’t know whom Biden will choose but we do know the sort of hell she will endure at the hands of Team Trump. Even after the #MeToo revolution, even with women deciding this election, have the undercurrents of sexism in America changed so much? Hollywood, after all, only just began forking over major budgets to women directors, after years of absurdly stereotyping them.
Kimberly Guilfoyle, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Lara Trump and Jeanine Pirro — the Fox Force Five of retrograde Trumpworld — will have the knives out. Conservatives will undermine the veep candidate with stereotypes. She’s bitchy. She’s a nag. She’s aggressive. She’s ambitious. Who’s wearing the pants here, anyhow?
I asked Francis O’Brien if he thought, three and a half decades after he watched the sandstorm of sexism around Ferraro, whether her successor would have an easier time.
“I think it’s the same, in many ways,” he said. “This is a white Anglo-Saxon country founded by white Anglo-Saxon men for white Anglo-Saxon men. Sexism is like race. It’ll pop out. It’s in our DNA. We’re one of the few Western countries where women have never made it to the top.”
But on the bright side, when Chuck Schumer wanted to call Nancy Pelosi a lioness on Friday, referring to her negotiations with Republicans on the relief bill, he checked with her first to see if she would prefer lion.
Walter Mondale made history by choosing Geraldine Ferraro as first female running mate on a major party ticket
Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who died Monday at the age of 93, made history during his 1984 presidential run when he chose Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate.
Though then President Ronald Reagan handily defeated Mondale and Ferraro, the Minnesota politician was a pioneer as the first presidential candidate on a major party ticket to choose a female running mate - nearly four decades before Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman sworn into the office.
In addition to her gender, Ferraro's ethnicity made history as well. She was the first Italian-American nominee on a major party ticket.
Mondale's pick was initially met with enthusiasm and praise, giving the ticket a bump in the polls, but questions about Ferraro and her husband's finances became a liability as the campaign went on. In November, Mondale and Ferraro lost in a landslide, receiving only 41% of the popular vote and losing every state in the Electoral College except the District of Columbia and Mondale's home state of Minnesota. The ticket also lost Ferraro's district in New York.
Reflecting on his decision in his 2010 book, "The Good Fight," Mondale said he thought Ferraro would be "an excellent vice president and could be a good president. . I also knew that I was far behind Reagan and that if I just ran a traditional campaign, I would never get in the game."
In the book, Mondale also said his wife of nearly 60 years, Joan, had encouraged him to choose a female running mate.
"Joan thought we were far enough along in the movement for women's rights that the political system had produced plenty of qualified candidates, and she thought voters were ready for a ticket that would break the white-male mold."
Thank You, Walter Mondale, for Paving the Way for a Female VP
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Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, 1984 Photo: Charles Bjorgen/Star Tribune via Getty Images
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On a hot September afternoon in 1984, I was at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, Queens sitting about four rows from the upper rung of the cavernous stadium, eagerly waiting for the women’s final between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova to begin.
Suddenly, far below us, there was a murmur in the crowd, then the beginning of applause—the noise growing louder and louder as it moved its way up the stadium, with the spectators around us eventually joining in, many of them rising to their feet and cheering. “It’s Geraldine Ferraro,” my friend Christy turned to me and shouted. “She’s here!”
For a full five minutes, we joined in the ecstatic cheering, welcoming home the Queens native and celebrating the first woman ever nominated for vice president on a major party ticket. And that moment was all because of Walter Mondale, who died on Monday at the age of 93.
Mondale, the progressive Minnesota politician who was vice president under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1980 and then the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1984 (where he suffered a crushing defeat to Ronald Reagan), left a lasting contribution to American history.
Though he and Ferraro would lose that election (and it would take 36 years before a woman would actually be elected vice president of the United States), Mondale chiseled that first crack in the political ceiling that long kept women out of high office.
And on Monday night, once news of Mondale’s death became public, among those who paid tribute to the former vice president was the woman who holds that office today. “When he won the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1984, Vice President Mondale made a bold and historic choice,” Vice President Harris said in a statement issued by her office. “He selected Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate—the first woman to be nominated as Vice President on a major party ticket in American history. With that nomination, Vice President Mondale opened ‘a new door to the future,’ to borrow his words.”
She added that she was “able to speak with him just a few days ago and thank him for his service and his steadfastness” and that, “each time I open my desk drawer and see his signature there, alongside the signatures of 11 other Vice Presidents, I will be reminded of and grateful for Vice President Mondale’s life of service.”
There was also a moving tribute from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of six women who ran for president in the Democratic primaries in 2020, and someone who counted Mondale as a crucial influence on her political career, beginning when she was an intern for the then-vice president.
On MSNBC Monday night, Klobuchar told Rachel Maddow she said she still recalled the image of Geraldine Ferraro at that year’s Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, accepting her historic nomination, adding, ‘It wasn’t just me. I think every little girl at the time knew that anything and everything was possible.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also cited Mondale’s ground-breaking achievement, tweeting that he “blazed a trail by choosing a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, to join him on the presidential ticket,” while former President Barack Obama tweeted that Mondale “changed the role of VP,” while also paving the way for Kamala Harris “to make history.”
In his memoir, The Good Fight, Mondale wrote that he was encouraged to pick Ferraro by both House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a longtime political powerbroker, and his wife Joan, who told him she saw it “as a natural progression in American politics.”
And Mondale himself thought “putting a woman on a major-party ticket would change American expectations, permanently and for the better.” As he wrote, “Picking Ferraro was symbolic in that sense, but a symbolic gesture with consequences. Skeptical voters would see what an effective woman candidate would accomplish. Young women could see new horizons open up. Everyone would see how America had changed in our lifetimes and more doors would open.”
Of course, Geraldine Ferraro, who died in 2011, turned out to be something of an imperfect candidate. She was smart, charismatic, and funny, but as a three-term Congresswoman from Queens, she was largely untested on the national stage and neither she nor Mondale seemed prepared for the frequently sexist treatment she would be subjected to on the campaign trail. (The more traditional helpmate, Barbara Bush, the wife of Vice President George H.W. Bush, famously referred to her husband’s opponent as a word that “rhymes with rich.”) In addition, she was married to a man whose finances turned out to be somewhat complicated, causing an unwelcome distraction in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Though Reagan, then running for his second term, was almost unbeatable in 1984, the symbolism of Ferraro’s candidacy was deep and lasting, especially among the female reporters who covered that race. Writing about Ferraro shortly after her death, the longtime New York Times political reporter Joyce Purnick, spoke of the grudging respect she gave the vice presidential candidate. "She made no apology, gave no quarter,” Purnick wrote for The Times. “That brand of intransigence had to impress even those who disagreed with her. Her stubbornness must have resonated in particular with women, many of whom, to this day, know how it feels to hide their intelligence or mute their opinions or avoid confrontation rather than appear challenging to male power.”
In 2016, when Hillary Clinton was running for president, the journalist Alison Mitchell wrote about covering Geraldine Ferraro for Newsday 32 years earlier, and doing so because of her gender. “I was dispatched to the campaign—like women from most major networks and publications—because editors sought women to capture the history of one of their own,” Mitchell wrote. “Perhaps, we occasionally suspected, some of them also thought it would be beneath a man to ride that campaign plane.”
On that campaign trail, she wrote, “I watched the euphoric, rapturous crowds, mostly women and girls who showed up with ‘To Gerry with Love’ signs, even in the campaign’s last days, when it was going down to a decisive defeat to President Reagan and George Bush.” Reflecting on that campaign, Mitchell wondered whether the intense scrutiny of Ferraro, one that seemed to expose the weakness of the first-time national candidate, was “fair game or driven by discomfort with the idea of a woman as vice president?” A little of both, she concluded.
So, yes, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket may have gone down in flames 36 years ago. But let’s take a few minutes on the occasion of his passing to pay tribute to Walter Mondale—who had the boldness to recognize it was time a woman was elected to national office and the courage to try to make it happen.