Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Historical Figures: Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924 - January 1, 2005)

Shirley Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents. Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana while her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Barbados. An alumna of Girls High School in Brooklyn, Chisholm graduated with a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1946 and an M.A. in elementary education from Columbia University in 1952. She was first elected to the New York State Legislature in 1964. In 1968, Chisholm ran for the House of Representatives as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District. She was elected and became the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm later joined the Congressional Black Caucus as one of its founding members. 

In 1972, Chisholm made a bid for the Democratic party's presidential nomination. During the campaign, she survived 3 assassination attempts. Despite winning 28 delegate votes, George McGovern won the Democratic primary in a contested set of primary elections. Her support base was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women (NOW), Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. 

From 1977 to 1981, Chisholm was elected to a position in the House Democratic leadership as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus. Throughout her tenure in Congress, she worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported increased spending for education, health care, and decreased military spending. After many years in Congress, Chisholm retired in 1982. After retiring, she taught politics and women's studies and was named the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College from 1983 to 1987. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Chisholm retired to Florida and passed away on January 1, 2005. 

"When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the twentieth century and who dared to be a catalyst for change. I don't want be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress, and I don't even want to be remembered as the first woman who happen to be black to make a bid for the presidency. I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the twentieth century. That's what I want."

-Shirley Chisholm

Autobiographical Writings
Unbought and Unbossed (1970)
The Good Fight (1973)

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