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A woman of many firsts, Shirley Chisholm, was able to use her political position to advocate for educational opportunities and social justice. She made history by becoming the first Black congresswoman and the first Black major-party candidate to run for the United States presidency.
The “People’s Politician” was born Shirley Anita St. Hill on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York. She spent part of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother. She returned to the U.S., where she attended Brooklyn College and Columbia University. During this time she also married her first husband Conrad Chisholm and began her career as a teacher.
After earning a masters in early childhood education from Columbia, Chisholm served as the director of a child care center and as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. She decided to serve in a different way when she ran for and was elected to the New York state legislature.
In 1968, Chisolm became the first Black woman elected to Congress and she was re-elected a total of seven terms to the House of Representatives. Chisholm showed constituents and fellow politicians that she was a fighter and took on the moniker “Fighting Shirley.” She was even vocal about her displeasure with her first committee assignment. Chisholm demanded reassignment from the House Forestry Committee and was eventually placed on the Veterans Affairs Committee. During her time in Congress, she also helped to establish the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.
Chisholm made history again when she ran for President in 1972. She was the second woman and first Black to run. South Dakota Senator George McGovern defeated Chisholm for the Democratic nomination but she captured 10 percent of the votes.
Despite her unsuccessful run for the presidency, Chisholm remained in the House of Representatives until 1983. She taught at Mount Holyoke College and was a popular lecturer. In 1993, 10 years after leaving Congress, Chisholm was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Chisholm wrote two books, Unbought and Unbossed, and The Good Fight. She was nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica by President Bill Clinton but declined due to health concerns. Chisholm settled in Florida and continued to write and lecture until her death on January 1, 2005.