Shirley Chisholm, 1924-2005

  • Shirley-Chisholm-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: African-American Women, Author, Congresswoman, Educator, and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    Politician, educator, author, the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress and the first major-party African-American candidate to run for the presidential nomination.

    Born as Shirley Anita St. Hill in Brooklyn, NY, to a family of immigrants from the Caribbean region. Due to financial problems, Chisholm and her sisters were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados, where she attended a one-room schoolhouse for five years before returning to the US. At 22, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College, where she was recognized for her debating skills. Three years later, she married Conrad O. Chisholm.
    While studying at Columbia University for MA in elementary education, she worked and developed from a nursery school teacher to the director of the Friends Day Nursery in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and educational consultant at NYC Division of Day Care. By serving in those positions, Chisholm witnessed gender and racial inequalities, her interest in politics grew, and she began to volunteer for various organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League of Women Voters and the National Association of College Women.
    In 1965 Chisholm became a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, and three years later, she made history by becoming the first African-American congresswoman in the US Congress. In her seven terms in the House of Representatives, she advocated for racial and gender equality, expanding the food stamp program, and promoted the ending of the Vietnam War. During her time in office, she hired women-only staff, claiming she faced discrimination more as a woman than as a person of color.
    On January 25, 1972, Chisholm announced her bid for the upcoming presidential elections. By that, she became the first African-American candidate of a major party to run for the US presidency, as well as the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. During the campaign, she faced many challenges; she wasn’t regarded as a serious candidate, received little support from her African-American male colleagues, and was blocked from participating in the televised primary debates. She lost the elections to George McGovern, who later was defeated by Richard Nixon.
    After the elections, Chisholm continued her work at the House of Representatives, served for four years as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus, and in 1977, became the first African-American woman and the second woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.
    In 1982 Chisholm retired from Congress to take care of her second husband, who was injured in an accident. She moved to Williamsville, NY, and returned to work in education at Mount Holyoke Women’s College, teaching politics and sociology. She traveled all across the US, giving speeches at colleges and visiting different minority groups to empower them. In 1990, alongside 15 other black women and men, Chisholm established the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom and served as its first chair. Chisholm died in her house in Florida after suffering from several strokes.

    “If you don’t accept others who are different, it means nothing that you’ve learned calculus”

    “If you don’t accept others who are different, it means nothing that you’ve learned calculus”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • While in college, she was a member of the female black sorority, Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
    • She survived 3 assassination attempts during her presidential campaign.
    • She created controversy when she visited George Wallace in the hospital after he got shot. Wallace, who was governor of Alabama, was known for his racist and segregationist views.
    • She was married twice and never had children.
    • A park in New York near where she grew up is named in her honor as well as a circle and two daycares.
    • In 2020 a monument will be dedicated to her in Brooklyn, designed by Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous. She will be the first public female that has a dedicated monument in Brooklyn.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Presidential Medal of Freedom
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Shirley Chisholm : The First Black Congresswoman

  • Photo credit - WWP team.