Good morning all! Today is bittersweet, as it’s the last installment of Badass Women in History. This one is a biggie though, as it’s about Shirley Chisolm. She was a woman who burst through political barriers of her gender and race to create a better life for the people of her community.
Shirley St. Hill was born in Brooklyn to Caribbean immigrant parents. Her parents were poor and had a difficult time raising her and her two sisters, so in 1929 they were sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados. While there, her grandmother sent her to a very strict schoolhouse that focused intensely on education. She accredits her ability to read, write, and speak efficiently to her time in that school. She went to an integrated high school, and attended Brooklyn College where she later earned her bachelors. In 1949, she married Conrad Chisolm, and he became her constant companion -and later, her bodyguard. She became a schoolteacher, and earned her masters in elementary education in 1952.
Her political career began when she was the director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center and worked as a consultant for the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare. She served as a member of the New York State Assembly from 1965-1968. During her tenure in the Assembly, she argued against the state literacy test only being offered in English because just because someone functioned better in their own language didn’t mean they were illiterate. She also advocated for unemployment benefits to be extended to domestic workers. With her background in education, she also helped sponsor SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge) which provided opportunities for underprivileged students to attend college while receiving intensive remedial education.
In 1968, she ran for the House of Representatives, and became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress. She was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee, which insulted her because she didn’t see how that would be relevant to her constituents. She then decided to use her position to feed the poor and hungry with agricultural surplus. She was able to help expand the foodstamp program, and was vital to the creation of WIC. She was later assigned to the Education and Labor Committee, and was the third-highest ranked official on the committee upon her retirement from Congress. Throughout her tenure in the ELC, she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of inner-city residents. She supported spending on education, healthcare, and other social services.
In 1972, she made the decision to run for PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Yep, she ran as not only the first woman, but the first BLACK woman. Sadly, she was just destined to fail in a racist and sexist society. Her campaign was only able to raise $300,000, and she received no support for her black male peers. She kept fighting though, even after three attempts on her life during her campaign.
While working in Congress, Chisolm only employed women to work in her office, and half were Black. She says she faced more discrimination due to her sex than her race while working in Congress. She retired from the House of Representatives in 1983, and went on to teach politics and sociology at Mount Holyoke College. Over the years, she gave speeches at over 150 colleges. She also continued to be involved in politics, urging minority groups to become strong political forces at the local level. She passed away in 2005 after suffering several strokes.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Shirley Chisolm as well as all the other motivational women this month. Their sacrifices, courage, and perseverance are an inspiration to women everywhere.
Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you next week when we get back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Until next time!