Who Was the First Woman Nominated for Vice President?

By a Major American Political Party?

Ferraro and Mondale Campaigning
Ferraro and Mondale Campaigning. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Question: Who was the first woman nominated as a vice presidential candidate by a major American political party?

Answer: In 1984, Walter Mondale, Democratic nominee for president, selected Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, and his choice was confirmed by the Democratic National Convention.

The only other woman nominated for vice president by a major party was Sarah Palin in 2008.

The Nomination

At the time of the Democratic National Convention of 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was serving her sixth year in Congress.

An Italian-American from Queens, New York, since she moved there in 1950, she was an active Roman Catholic. She kept her birth name when she married John Zaccaro. She had been a public school teacher and a prosecuting attorney.

Already, there was speculation that the popular Congresswoman would run for the Senate in New York in 1986.  She asked the Democratic party to make her the head of the platform committee for its 1984 convention. As early as 1983, an op-ed in the New York Times by Jane Perletz urged that Ferraro be given the vice president slot on the Democratic ticket. She was appointed to chair the platform committee.

Candidates for the presidential slot in 1984 included Walter F. Mondale, Senator Gary Hart and the Rev. Jesse Jackson all had delegates, though it was clear that Mondale would win the nomination. 

There was still talk in the months before the convention of placing Ferraro's name in nomination at the convention, whether Mondale chose her as his running mate or not.

Ferraro finally clarified in June that she would not permit her name to be put in nomination if it would be counterposed to Mondale's choice. A number of powerful women Democrats, including Maryland's Representative Barbara Mikulski, were pressuring Mondale to pick Ferraro or face a floor fight.

In her acceptance speech to the convention, memorable words included "If we can do this, we can do anything.” A Reagan landslide defeated the Mondale-Ferraro ticket.

 She was only the fourth member of the House to that point in the 20th century to run as a major party candidate for vice president.

Conservatives including William Safire criticized her for use of the honorific Ms. and for using the term "gender" instead of "sex."  The New York Times, refusing by its style guide to use Ms. with her name, settled at her request on calling her Mrs. Ferraro.

During the campaign, Ferraro tried to bring issues that were about women's lives to the forefront.  A poll right after the nomination showed Mondale/Ferraro winning the women's vote while men favored the Republican ticket.

Her casual approach at appearances, coupled with her quick responses to questions and her clear competence, endeared her to supporters. She was not afraid to publicly say that her counterpart on the Republican ticket, George H. W. Bush, was patronizing.

Questions about Ferraro's finances dominated the news for quite a while during the campaign. Many believed that there was more focus on her family's finances because she was a woman, and some thought it was because she and her husband were Italian-Americans.

In particular, the investigations looked at loans made from her husband's finances to her first Congressional campaign, an error on 1978 income taxes resulting in back taxes owed of $60,000, and her disclosure of her own finances but refusal to disclose her husband's detailed tax filings.

She was reported to have won support among Italian-Americans, particularly because of her heritage, and because some Italian-Americans suspected that the harsh attacks on her husband's finances reflected stereotypes about Italian-Americans.

But for a variety of reasons, including facing an incumbent in an improving economy and Mondale's statement that a tax increase was inevitable, Mondale/Ferraro lost in November.  About 55 percent of women, and more men, voted for the Republicans.

The Aftermath

For many women, breaking the glass ceiling with that nomination was inspiring.  It would be another 24 years before another woman was nominated for the vice presidency by a major party. 1984 was called the Year of the Woman for women's activity in working in and running in campaigns. (1992 was later also called Year of the Woman for the number of women who won Senate and House seats.) Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kansas) won reelection to the Senate.

Three women, two Republicans and one Democrat, won their elections to become first-term Representatives in the House.  Many women challenged incumbents, though few won. 

A House Ethics committee in 1984 decided that Ferraro should have reported details of her husband's finances as part of her financial disclosures as a member of Congress. They took no action to sanction her, finding that she had omitted the information unintentionally.

She remained a spokesperson for feminist causes, though largely as an independent voice.  When many Senators defended Clarence Thomas and attacked the character of his accuser, Anita Hill, she said that men "still don't get it."

She refused an offer to run for the Senate against Republican incumbent Alfonse M. D'Amato in the 1986 race. In 1992, in the next election to seek to unseat D'Amato, there was talk of Ferraro running, and also stories about Elizabeth Holtzman (Brooklyn District Attorney) showing ads that implied a connection of Ferraro's husband to organized crime figures.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Ferraro as an ambassador, appointed to be a representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

In 1998 Ferraro decided to pursue a race against the same incumbent.  The likely Democratic primary field included Rep. Charles Schumer (Brooklyn), Elizabeth Holtzman and Mark Green, New York City Public Advocate.  Ferraro had the support of Gov. Cuomo. She dropped out of the race over an investigation into whether her husband had made illegal large contributions to her 1978 Congressional campaign. Schumer won the primary and the election.

Supporting Hillary Clinton in 2008

The same year, 2008, that the next woman was nominated for vice president by a major party, Hillary Clinton had nearly won the Democratic nomination for the top of the ticket, the presidency. Ferraro supported the campaign strongly, and said quite publicly was marked by sexism.

See also: Geraldine Ferraro Biography with more information about her life, through the campaign of 2008.

And for quotes that give a sense of her interests and style: Geraldine Ferraro Quotes