008- Shirley Chisholm

Decades before Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm. As the first black woman to run for president for a major political party she was years ahead of her time. So why don’t more people know about her? Shirley Chisholm made history as she announced her candidacy for the White House. Her bid for the top job was short-lived, but the symbolism is as powerful today as it was then.

  • Shirley Anita was born on November 20, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York.
  • The oldest of four daughters
  • Inspired by her grandmother, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • Nursery school teacher while earning her Masters from Columbia University in 1952.
    1960s Shirley developed an interest in politics.
  • From 1965 to 1968 she was a Democrat in the New York State Assembly.
  • In the New York State Assembly, she was able to secure unemployment benefits for those working in the domestic field.
  • 1968- elected to Congress from NY, making her the first African American woman in this position. She served 7 terms appointed to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and then eventually the Education and Labor Committee.
  • In 1972 she became the first African-American and female to make a bid to become United States President, running for the Democratic nomination.
  • She served as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus from 1977 to 1981.
  • Shirley Chisholm was instrumental in improving the lives of inner-city residents in her terms in government. She worked to improve healthcare, social services, and education.
  • She retired from Congress in 1982
  • 1983 she taught sociology and politics
  • 1993 nominated as US ambassador to Jamaica but her health prevented her to accept
  • 2005, January 1st, she passed away at the age of 80
  • 2015 she was awarded the presidential medal of honor

Shirley Chisholm Quotes:

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl’.”

“My God, what do we want? What does any human being want? Take away an accident of pigmentation of a thin layer of our outer skin and there is no difference between me and anyone else.”

“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – anti-humanism.”

“I have no intention of just sitting quietly and observing. I intend to speak out immediately in order to focus on the nation’s problems,” Chisholm said of her new role.

Her victory, against the backdrop of the civil rights era, was a huge milestone, but with it came challenges.

“Can you imagine being a woman, and black in congress then?” says Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who represents the 13th District of California and is one of 35 African-American women who has served in Congress to date.

The first black woman, and the second ever female on the influential rules committee in Congress, she shattered a lot of glass ceilings, says Lee.

“Some of the men in Congress did not respect her, she just stood out and they didn’t get her. But she wouldn’t back down. She didn’t go along to get along, she went to change things.”

Shirley Chisholm Campaign Button, 1972

There are of course many other salient quotes from Chisholm which delineate  her positions and perspectives. Among them are:

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”

“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”

“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”


“Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being black.”

The National Visionary Leadership Project has a series of oral history interviews with Ms. Chisholm in its archives, conducted by journalist Renee Poussaint.


  • Anderson, Delores Joan. “Black Women and Politics: Intersectionality of Race and Gender and the Transformative Production of Knowledge in Political Science.” Ph.D. diss., The Union Institute, 2000.
  • Barnwell, Cherron Annette. “The Dialogics of Self in the Autobiographies of African-American Public Women: Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis and Anita Hill.” Ph.D. diss., Howard University, 2002.
  • Brownmiller, Susan. Shirley Chisholm. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.
  • Canas, Kathryn Anne. “Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, and Lani Guinier: Crafting Identification Through the Rhetorical Interbraiding of Value.” Ph.D. diss., The University of Utah, 2002.
  • Chisholm, Shirley. The Good Fight. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • ___. Unbought and Unbossed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
  • Duffy, Susan, comp. Shirley Chisholm: A Bibliography of Writings by and About Her. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988.
  • Falk, Erika A. “Women, Press, and the Presidency.” Ph.D., diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2001.
  • Gallagher, Julie A. “Women of Action, In Action: The New Politics of Black Women in New York City, 1944-1972.” Ph.D. diss., University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2003.
  • Haskins, James. Fighting Shirley Chisholm. Los Angeles: Dutton Books, 1975.
  • Hicks, Nancy. The Honorable Shirley Chisholm: Congresswoman From Brooklyn. New York: Lion Books, 1971.
  • Marshall-White, Eleanor. Women: Catalysts For Change; Interpretive Biographies of Shirley St. Hill Chisholm, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Nancy Landon Kassebaum. New York: Vantage Press, 1991.
  • Ralph Nader Congress Project. Citizens Look at Congress: Shirley Chisholm, Democratic Representative from New York. Washington, D. C.: Grossman Publishers, 1972.
  • Scheader, Catherine. Shirley Chisholm: Teacher and Congresswoman. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1990.
  • “Shirley Anita Chisholm” in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.
  • “Shirley Anita Chisholm” in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.
  • Williamson, Dorothy Kay. “Rhetorical Analysis of Selected Modern Black American Spokepersons on the Women’s Liberation Movement.” Ph.D., diss., The Ohio State University, 1980.

Want more? Check out other episodes!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s