Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm

"If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

  Illustrated by  Alexandra Bowman

Illustrated by Alexandra Bowman

The world of politics is remarkably unkind to women. It should come as no surprise that when Shirley Chisholm ran for president in 1972 (more than 40 years before Hillary Clinton earned the democratic nomination) she was not given the respect she deserved. Both the first woman to run for the Democratic party's presidential nomination and first black major-party candidate for presidential nomination, Chisholm was undeterred by the seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling.

Born in Brooklyn, NY to Barbadian parents, Chisholm went to Brooklyn College for her undergraduate and Columbia University for a master's in elementary education. She would launch swiftly into community involvement, becoming a valuable resource on early childhood development while volunteering in political leagues. From 1965 to 1968 she was a State Legislator, before running for congress with the slogan "Unbought and unbossed." She would adhere to that motto throughout her career.

She started off congress on The House Agricultural Committee, an area she felt unqualified for and uninterested in as a native New Yorker. She was able, however, to use the position to make great headway in something she cared deeply about, providing food for those in need. She expanded the food stamp program and was largely responsible for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Despite her professional success, Chisholm found it nearly impossible to be accepted by her male colleagues. “I have certainly met much more discrimination in terms of being a woman than being black, in the field of politics,” she would explain, "Men are men."

Four years into her seven terms as New York Congresswoman, she felt it was time "to make that someday come" and ran for the Democratic party's presidential nomination. In her speech announcing her candidacy, Chisholm stated:

“I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud.
I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman, and I am equally proud of that.
I am the candidate of the people of America."

In her campaign, she strongly opposed the Vietnam War, preferring the funds be used "to revitalize and rebuild our cities." She was outspoken about equality for blacks and for women, seeking equal pay and educational reform.

Though she did not win the nomination, she continued to fight in congress for the beliefs that made up her platform. She was a very vocal opponent of the draft and military spending, while campaigning for minimum wage for domestic workers, and increased spending for healthcare and education. She also spoke up about fair treatment for Haitian refugees. 

After leaving congress in 1982, Chisholm worked at Mt Holyoke and Spelmam College, while touring frequently to give speeches, telling students, "If you don't accept others who are different, it means nothing that you've learned calculus."

Before her passing in 2005, Chisholm was asked how she would like to be remembered. She said, "I'd like them to say that Shirley had guts." She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Obama who, in his speech said "I'm proud to say it: Shirley Chisholm had guts."

"Shirley fought for peace, higher education, minority rights and equality for women. She was a zesty lady who constantly pushed the envelope to reach her full potential no matter who stood in her way. She famously stated, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” -Alexandra Bowman

She Should Run is a non-partisan 501(c)3 organization expanding the talent pool of future elected female leaders. She Should Run started as a project in 2008 and has evolved to become a movement working to create a culture that inspires women and girls to aspire towards public leadership. We believe that women of all backgrounds should have an equal shot at elected leadership and that our country will benefit from having a government with varied perspectives and experiences.  

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Etta James

Etta James