The National Democratic Convention in 1972 was a breakthrough moment for women in American politics. US Representative Shirley Chisholm’s groundbreaking candidacy for the presidency “as black and as a woman“, Which had been rudely dismissed by party power brokers, finally got its moment in the spotlight. With the failure of Hubert Humphrey’s candidacy, many black delegates associated with the former Vice President shifted their support to Chisholm, giving her 152 votes for the nomination – far fewer than candidate George McGovern but far more than the Maine Senator , Edmund Muskie, who had once been the front runner, and many of the other men who had unsuccessfully bid for the party’s nod.
An even bigger vote to put a woman on the ticket came when Congress nominated a vice-presidential candidate, who ran with McGovern against Republicans Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew that fall. McGovern, a Senator from South Dakota, had tapped into a colleague, Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton. But activists with the National Women’s Political Caucuswho had waged a bold but ultimately unsuccessful fight for the inclusion of an abortion rights board on the platform, wanted to challenge traditional politics not only of the party but also of the nation. The plan was to nominate a woman and try to gain support from the camps of the various contenders for the presidential nod.
But who? Many activists wanted Chisholm to escape, but they decided not to start a second campaign that same year. The only woman in the Senate at the time Margaret Chase Smith was Republican from Maine. No woman from either side held a governorship. But one woman, Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, had just ran a headline-grabbing campaign for the governor of Texas. Farenthold, a lawmaker who gained widespread attention as one of the state’s leading reformers and ardent supporter of civil rights, labor rights, and women’s rights, had finished for governor ahead of the incumbent governor and lieutenant governor in the 1972 primary primary she won 45 percent of the vote in a runoff that made her a national star for feminists and their allies in the movement.
Baylor University students had launched a “Sissy for VP” campaign ahead of Congress, and the idea was well received by the leaders of the women’s faction. Gloria Steinem, the writer and political activist who was arguably the most prominent feminist in the country at the moment, welcomed the idea, as did many other women who had come to Congress to change a party dominated by white men. Farenthold, who was a member of the Texas delegation and a McGovern supporter, agreed to make the offer.
The hastily organized campaign eventually won 405 votes, unprecedented support for the nomination of a woman, and made Farenthold such a feminist icon that she was soon to be elected chairman of the National Women’s Political Caucus. Time has made her a less prominent figure outside of Texas, but the story of her running for the vice presidency deserves attention as activists grieve her death on September 26 at the age of 94.