The news magazines with Geraldine Ferraro on the cover are tucked away in a box somewhere. I kept them because it was a pretty big deal in 1984 that a woman was finally named as a vice presidential candidate. The kind of big deal that made you think it would never be a big deal again, say in 24 years when another woman would be chosen to join a presidential ticket.
Before there was Sarah Palin, there was Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic congresswoman from Queens, N.Y., chosen to join Walter Mondale on the Democratic national ticket. She died Saturday at the age of 75 after battling a blood cancer for 12 years.
"If we can do this, we can do anything," Ferraro said on a July evening to a cheering Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. It was a goose-bump-raising, defining moment for women who felt the victory of another door being burst open-this one to the White House-inspiring boundless dreams for ourselves and, one day, our daughters.
Like Palin two decades later, Ferraro's qualifications would be questioned, but not her smarts so much. The former Queens criminal prosecutor was great on her feet, and on TV. She handled a really tough press conference with questions about her husband's and family finances asked by several reporters (yes, not just one at a time) with remarkable patience and candor. The financial questions certainly didn't help Mondale's chances to unseat Reagan, re-elected in a landslide with 55 percent of the women's vote. But as Ferraro said years later: "Throwing Ronald Reagan out of office at the height of his popularity, with inflation and interest rates down, the economy moving and the country at peace, would have required God on the ticket," Ms. Ferraro wrote, "and She was not available!"
Raised by a single mom who had crocheted beads on wedding dresses to send her daughter to good schools, Ferraro taught school for awhile before applying to Fordham Law school, where she was told she might be taking a man's spot. She was admitted to the night school program, and was one of two women in a class of 179 in 1960, the Times reports. She put off pursuing her law career until her children were school age. She ran for Congress in 1978 and won.
In the presidential race in 1984, there finally stood a mom who had balanced work and family, a woman who women could actually relate to. From the New York Times:
For the first time, a major candidate for national office talked about abortion with the phrase "If I were pregnant," or about foreign policy with the personal observation "As the mother of a draft-age son...." She wore pearls and silk dresses and publicly worried that her slip was showing.
She showed us what was possible, and that it would never be easy.