Catalyst for change: Shirley Chisholm

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” – Shirley Chisholm

471604-01-main-270x350The late, great Shirley Chisholm was recently commemorated with a stamp, so I decided an in-person trip to the Post Office was in order. As I placed my order at the counter, the woman next to me asked who this Shirley Chisholm was. I’m always surprised at how few people seem to know about her. So I’m taking the opportunity to spread the word here.

It is often hard to wholeheartedly admire a politician, but Chisholm is one that I do. When I watched the 2005 documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, I was captivated by her dynamic presence and unwavering vision. As I learned more about her, I couldn’t help but wish that we had more politicians and leaders like her.

She represented New York’s 12th Congressional district for fourteen years, prioritizing issues of poverty, education, and women’s health and reproductive freedom. She deliberately hired women for all of her office positions, half of whom were black women. She was whip smart and had the ability to incisively cut to the heart of the matter; at the same time, she was also known for being warm and kind, with a great sense of humor.

Among her many notable accomplishments:

  • She served on the Education and Labor Committee. She worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to minimum wage, worked to revoke the Internal Security Act of 1950 (a McCarthy-era holdover), and pushed for increased spending on social services, education, and health care. She authored the Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1972, which would have implemented a national childcare system; it passed the House and the Senate but was unfortunately vetoed by Nixon.
  • She taught politics and women’s studies at Mount Holyoke and Spelman, after her retirement from Congress.

In her own words, “I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

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