Most Americans born in the last 25 years probably don’t know the name Geraldine Ferraro. But they should, as then-Congresswoman Ferraro gained more than a footnote in history in 1984 as the first woman to serve on a national party ticket as the vice presidential candidate. Ferraro, who died March 26 at 75, remained somewhat active in public policy issues for the quarter century-plus that followed that campaign, but her candidacy of a few months with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale will be her legacy.
Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s vice president, was facing what proved to be the insurmountable popularity of incumbent President Ronald Reagan, and the Ferraro choice was seen as a bold move to bring attention to the ticket. Ferraro proved to be a formidable campaigner, though she was questioned about issues in ways that a female candidate would not face today, such as whether foreign powers would think a woman strong enough to stand up to other leaders. There also were all sorts of worries about how she and Mondale should act toward each other (kiss on the cheek or handshake?) and the role Ferraro’s husband would play in the campaign. His business dealings, in fact, were made an issue by Republicans.
But it’s fair to say that Ferraro’s candidacy did encourage more women to seek office, and it also diluted at least some of the old-fashioned chauvinism that was not too far under the surface in national politics. After all, women really have come to the forefront as candidates for major political office and for judgeships in fairly recent history. (Beverly Perdue is the first woman governor of North Carolina, for example.) At least some measure of that success is due to the courage of the congresswoman from Queens.
The News & Observer of Raleigh (March 31)