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Woman to clean up the White HouseThe Women Who Ran for President
by Jo Freeman

Update: This article is Chapter 5 of Jo's book We Will Be Heard:Women's Struggles for Political Power in the United States.

Please note: The author was unable to obtain buttons for all of the candidates in this article. If you would like to donate a button so it can appear on this page, please contact Jo.


You can view highlights of this article HERE.

Long before women could vote they ran for public office, including the highest office -- the Presidency of the United States. They ran for the same reasons that men run who don’t have a chance: because a Presidential candidacy is a great platform from which to talk about issues and sometimes just to talk about yourself. Two women put themselves forward for the Presidency in the Nineteenth Century. None did so in the Twentieth before 1964. Between 1964 and 2004 over fifty women were on at least one ballot as candidates for President, both as minor party candidates and as candidates in primaries for the nomination of the Republican or Democratic parties. Only a few of these women were noticed by the national press. In 1987 and 1999 two women who had established their credentials as political professionals tested the waters of the major parties, but decided they were too chilly because adequate funds were not available. Not until the Twenty-First Century were the names of women who had not yet indicated an interest in running “floated” as possible Presidential candidates.

Who were these women and why did they run?

The Nineteenth Century

In the Nineteenth Century political parties were private organizations. They decided who their candidates should be on every level from local to national and provided tickets which voters put into ballot boxes. A party ticket was just that, a ticket on which were printed the names of the party’s candidates. There were no ballots as we now think of them. In the 1830s the national parties created national committees to run their Presidential campaigns, but the actual campaigning and provision of tickets was still up to the local parties. If a particular party or candidate had local supporters they would provide tickets to local voters.

Two women ran for President under the label “Equal Rights Party” although there was no actual party with that name. Both women were suffragists and believers in equal rights for women so the name had a symbolic meaning.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull is remembered as The Woman Who Ran for President, but whether she actually ran is debatable. She was a notorious woman. Born on September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio, she earned money as a clairvoyant healer, a stockbroker, and a newspaper publisher. She both charmed and frightened many men. On April 2, 1870 she announced that she would be a candidate for the Presidency in a letter to the New York Herald. Soon thereafter she started her own Weekly with her sister and through it invited all types of reformers to come to a convention in New York City in May of 1872. On May 10, 1872, after adopting a platform for the newly minted Equal Rights Party, several hundred people enthusiastically called on her to run as their candidate. She gladly accepted even though she was only 33 and thus could not legally be President. Frederick Douglass was chosen to be her running-mate, but no one asked him and he never acknowledged the nomination. Soon thereafter she became embroiled in a series of scandals which left her with no time to campaign. On election day she was in jail, charged with sending obscene material through the U.S. mail. There is no record of any tickets with her name on them being put into a ballot box.

Woodhull may have been the first woman to be nominated for President but the first woman to actually campaign was Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood in 1884. Born in upper New York State on October 24, 1830, she had broken many barriers before insisting that she could receive votes even though she could not cast one. After earning her living by teaching school and managing property, she enrolled in a law program in Washington, D.C. She passed her courses, but had to use political skill and her wits to get her diploma. Then she had to talk her way into admission to the bar and had to persuade Congress to pass a law in order to become the first woman admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court in 1879. In addition to practicing law, she lobbied for women suffrage and temperance, campaigned for candidates and reported for newspapers. After failing to persuade the 1884 Republican convention to include a woman suffrage plank in its platform, she wrote Marietta Stow in California, editor of the Woman's Herald of Industry, that women should run for office, since no law prevented their serving if elected. Stow and attorney Clara Foltz subsequently telegraphed Lockwood that she had been nominated for President by the Equal Rights Party. Lockwood promptly accepted the nomination and later asked Stow to be her running-mate.

Lockwood was one of many reform candidates running in 1884 and the platform she wrote contained numerous popular reform positions -- many of which eventually came to pass. While hers paid particular attention to women’s rights, promising woman suffrage and the removal of women’s traditional legal disabilities, suffrage was only one of many issues covered in her campaign speeches. Since the tariff was the issue of the day, it occupied a prime spot in her talks, which thousands came to hear in a campaign of only a few weeks.

Running for President was harder than running for other offices because the voters could not vote directly for candidates. Each presidential aspirant had to have a slate of electors in each state committed to voting for that candidate in the electoral college. Voters voted for the electors. Lockwood’s first campaign task was to find people to run as electors who were pledged to her candidacy. She later claimed that she had succeeded in nine states.

Her candidacy was opposed by some notable suffrage leaders, who thought that it brought ridicule upon their cause. They were right about the ridicule. Cartoonists made fun of her, and men organized “Belva Lockwood parades” in which they wore Mother Hubbard costumes as a way of mocking her.

Belva Lockwood

Some voters were not deterred. Lockwood claimed that she received 4,711 votes in seven states. Her success, and the attention it brought, convinced her to try again in 1888. This campaign was much more modest and there is no record of how successful it was.

The Twentieth Century

Not until 1964 did another woman get votes for President. Late in the Nineteenth Century states began passing laws regulating the election process. They replaced the party ticket with the Australian ballot, a long list of the candidates for each available office that was printed by the government. Political parties became quasi-public entities; how they were organized and how they selected their candidates was shaped by state law. All these rules, regulations and qualifications made it much harder for candidates to be recognized and get votes than was true in the Nineteenth Century. Instead of printing tickets and giving them out to voters, candidates had to follow a legal procedure to get on the ballot. Ballot access became a hurdle in the Twentieth Century that did not exist in the Nineteenth. Nonetheless, in the eleven Presidential elections between 1964 and 2004, from ten to twenty small parties were on the ballot in at least one state every November.

Although several states held primary elections to pick a party’s presidential candidates early in the Twentieth Century, during the middle of the century fewer and fewer did so. Usually state parties chose delegates to national conventions where the Presidential ticket was chosen. Beginning in 1972, presidential primaries became popular again. However, the type of primary varies enormously depending on the rules of the national parties, the requirements of each state’s law and the choices of state parties. Different law usually applies to major and minor parties, and sometimes to the Democratic and Republican parties. Some primaries are easy to enter and some are not. Some require petitions with numerous signatures; some only require a filing fee.

This is also true of the general election. In some states ease of entry makes it possible for many parties to have candidates on the ballot for President and Vice-President; in other states only the major parties can qualify. In some years even incumbents running for re-election — for example President Taft in 1912 and President Truman in 1948 — have not been on the November ballot in all states. For a minor party candidate to get on the ballot in every state is very difficult in any year, and has been achieved less than a dozen times.

Of course one can run for President without appearing on a ballot, or even getting votes (á la Woodhull). But since it takes a certain amount of determination to get a ballot listing, that seems like a reasonable threshold for counting as a candidate. It is the one that Congressional Quarterly Inc. uses for inclusion in its many reference books. Since I am using those books as my source of names, that is the criterion that I will use. Even with that limitation, questions over who to include still remain. These will become evident as I review the women who got on the ballot.


Number of Women on a ballot for President, 1964 - 2004

#women in Primaries # women in general election
Year Rep Dem
1964 1 1 -
1968 - - 1
1972 - 2 1
1976 - 3 1
1980 - - 3
1984 - 1 2
1988 2 1 2
1992 5 5 4
1996 8 3 5
2000 1 1 2
2004 1 9 -
View Sources

The Early Birds

M.C. SmithWhen Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican Senator from Maine, stood before a luncheon of the Women's National Press Club held at the Mayflower Hotel on January 27, 1964 and announced that she was running for President, she became the first woman to become a candidate for a major party nomination for the nation's highest office. Smith's announcement of her candidacy was not spontaneous. For over a year she had received a steady flow of mail urging her to run. While flattered, she did not begin to take the possibility seriously until her mail escalated after an AP story late in 1963 suggesting that she might run. It wasn't party leaders or women's groups that convinced her to do so; the former were flustered at the thought and the latter were silent. It was ordinary people.

Like Woodhull and Lockwood, one of her reasons for running was “to break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the presidency of the United States -- to destroy any political bigotry against women on this score.” She entered the March 10 New Hampshire Republican primary – then the first opportunity for voters to indicate their presidential preference – and got 2,120 votes, or 2.4 percent of the total vote in a field of seven candidates. She did better in the April 14 Illinois primary, getting 25 percent of the Republican vote due to the efforts of a dedicated band of Republican women. No one, including her, believed she would win the nomination. But no one believed most of the men running for President would either. Smith lasted to the bitter end of the contentious Republican Convention held in San Francisco in July of 1964 where she was formally nominated for President and received 27 delegate votes.

In 1968 Charlene Mitchell became the first woman to head a minor party ticket in the Twentieth Century, and also the first African American of any party to appear on a Presidential ballot. She was officially nominated to head the first Communist Party ticket since 1940 by 179 delegates meeting at a hotel in New York City, after selection by party leaders behind closed doors. The 38 year old woman and her 23-year-old male running mate were chosen to appeal to youth, many of whom were protesting the war in Viet Nam. The Communist Party had run tickets every four years between 1924 and 1940, initially as the Workers’ Party of America. In 1944 it supported Roosevelt and in 1948 it supported Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace. Subsequently it laid low due to laws which made it virtually illegal.

Mitchell ZagarellWhen the Communist Party decided in 1968 that it was safe to run again it either did not know or did not care that it was breaking new ground for women. While the CP had long had “the woman question” on its agenda, its presence was passive while the Party actively tried to appeal to African Americans and to youth. Mitchell was nominated as “the great granddaughter of a slave.” Joining the CP in 1946, she had served on its national committee since 1957, while working as a bookkeeper in Los Angeles. She had recently joined the Party’s staff in New York City. Her nomination made the headlines of The Worker, a Communist newspaper since 1924. She and her running mate campaigned against the War in Viet Nam, in favor of the Soviet Union and against “reactionary” labor unions. They received 1,075 votes from four states. That was the last time the Communist Party ran a woman at the head of its ticket, though another African-American woman, Angela Davis, would occupy the second slot in 1980 and 1984.

Response to the New Feminist Movement

By 1972 the women’s liberation movement was flourishing and consciousness of women’s issues and women as a potential voting bloc was high. Three women ran for President that year. Linda Jenness was the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Congresswomen Patsy Mink (HA) and Shirley Chisholm (NY) ran in several Democratic Party primaries.

The SWP, officially founded in 1938, began as a faction within the Communist Party that supported Leon Trotsky. It has run Presidential tickets since 1948. Unlike many socialist parties it frequently runs candidates for state and local office.

Linda JennessOnly 31, Linda Jenness did not meet the Constitutional age requirement to hold the office of President, but the SWP was on the ballot in 25 states -- six more than in 1968. She qualified for the Ohio ballot but was removed when she could not prove she was 35. Jenness had grown up in a conservative family in Georgia, but sympathized with the civil rights movement. At Antioch College she became radicalized by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Viet Nam War. After joining the SWP in 1966, she was often run as its candidate for different offices because she was such an excellent speaker. With the women’s liberation movement highlighting women and feminism, she was a logical choice for the SWP to pick at its August 1971 convention.

In 1972, Jenness used the platform of her candidacy to speak out against the War and for women’s liberation. Roughly $300,000 was raised by small donations and spent for the petition signatures necessary to get the SWP ticket on the ballot. Its literature was equally devoted to denouncing the Presidential candidates of the Democrats (McGovern), the Republicans (Nixon) and the Communist Party (Gus Hall). Jenness was the last woman the SWP ran for President, though women have often occupied the second spot on its ticket since 1972. The SWP ran Evelyn Reed in place of Jenness in three states that would not permit Jenness to be on the ballot due to her age. Between the two of them, they received 66,677 votes in 25 states.

Patsy MinkPatsy Takamoto Mink had been in public office most of her adult life, having served in the Hawaii legislature before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1964. Outspoken against the War in Viet Nam, she was asked by a group of progressives in Oregon to run in their state’s May 23 Democratic primary to provide a platform to talk about the War. Most of them were founders of the Oregon branch of the National Women’s Political Caucus so they consciously chose a woman as their candidate. Mink agreed to run if the group obtained the necessary four thousand petition signatures to put her on the ballot. Once this was done she frequently stopped off in Oregon on her trips home to Hawaii to speak out against the War and in favor of her other concerns. Mink was busy as a Congresswoman that Spring. Among other duties, she shepherded Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act through the House. Written to prohibit sex discrimination in federally assisted education programs, it would have its biggest impact on women’s participation in collegiate sports. In April, Mink traveled to Paris with NY Rep. Bella Abzug to meet with Madam Nguyen Thi Binh, a negotiator for the North Vietnamese government. This generated a lot of criticism.

Mink’s campaign was widely publicized in Oregon but virtually unknown elsewhere. In addition to her 5,082 votes in the Oregon primary she got 573 votes in Maryland and 913 votes in Wisconsin, even though she did not campaign in either state. In Maryland, the Secretary of State is responsible for deciding whose names will appear on primary ballots, based on news media recognition that the person is a viable candidate. Wisconsin follows a similar procedure except that the decisions are made by a Presidential Preference Selection Committee for each political party recognized by the state. Mink did not have her name placed into nomination at the Democratic Convention and did not get any delegate votes.

Shirley ChisholmShirley Chisholm’s political roots were in Brooklyn, which she represented in the New York Assembly before becoming the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. After six months of “exploring” a candidacy she formally announced on January 25, 1972. Although Chisholm made a point of saying that she was not the women's candidate, she had always been a strong supporter of women's rights. One of the four founders of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, she often said that during her twenty years in local politics "I had met far more discrimination because I am a woman than because I am black.” Indeed Shirley Chisholm was so outspoken in favor of women's rights that she was often criticized for not paying enough attention to black issues. Of all the women who have run for President, she got the most votes. Over 400,000 people voted for her in 14 Democratic primaries. On the first ballot at the Democratic Convention, she got 151.95 delegate votes -- largely from delegates who came committed to Hubert H. Humphrey (MN) but were released by him before the first ballot. No woman has done as well since.

Campaign Finance Acts Change the Rules

In the 1970s Congress passed several acts which regulate federal campaigns and provide public funding for presidential campaigns that meet certain criteria. All candidates for federal office who raise or spend over a certain amount of money have to register and file reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Initially the threshold was $1,000; now it is $5,000. First affecting the 1976 Presidential election, these requirements for political committees made it more difficult to run grassroots campaigns without running afoul of the law. Since most candidates running in the primaries and all candidates running on minor party tickets are perennially short on funds, all have been burdened by the new regulations and only a few (including three women) have benefitted from public funding.

Despite the uncertainty of how the new law would be applied, three women ran in at least one Democratic Primary in 1976. Each one illustrated a different reason for running.

Gertrude W. Donahey ran only in Ohio, as a “favorite daughter.” Before the primaries became the main means of choosing a major party candidate, state parties often ran one of their own as a “favorite son.” These party stalwarts weren’t serious candidates, but placeholders, to enable the party leaders to control the delegate votes of their states in negotiations with those candidates who were within striking distance of the nomination. Donahey had been elected Ohio’s state treasurer in 1970 -- the first woman elected to a statewide office in that state. She may have been the only “favorite daughter” before this practice went out of style. Although she got 43,661 votes in Ohio’s Democratic Primary, she came in fifth out of six candidates with less than four percent of the vote.

Fifi Taft Rockefeller was a self-described “town character of Cincinnati.” She liked running for office. In 1964 she entered Indiana’s Democratic primary under the name of Fay T. Carpenter Swain (most likely her legal name), receiving 7,147 votes. In 1968 she tried to enter New Hampshire’s, using the name Princess Running Waters Red Legs St. Swanee. In 1976 she ran in the Democratic primary of her home state of Kentucky as Fifi, getting 2,305 votes. She liked the publicity she got as a Presidential candidate. When not running for office, she enjoyed attending trials.

Ellen McCormackEllen McCormack was a single-issue cause candidate. What motivated this housewife and mother of four from Long Island, New York to twice run for President was her opposition to legalized abortion and her belief that the other candidates wouldn’t talk about it if they could avoid it. Her campaign committee was composed of her friends on the Pro-Life Action Committee and her platform was a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit abortion. A registered Democrat, her 1976 campaign was her first run for public office. After visiting 22 states she received 238,000 votes in 18 Democratic primaries. Although very few voters thought abortion was a priority issue that year, McCormack’s campaign brought a lot of press. It also allowed her supporters podium time at the Democratic convention when they put her name into nomination. They used the opportunity to denounce the Democratic party for “becoming the Party of abortion.” By raising $525,580 in donations of $250 or less per contributor from twenty states she qualified for $247,220.37 in federal matching funds for the primaries. She got 22 delegate votes from 5 states on the first ballot at the Democratic convention.

McCormack’s success triggered a reaction from Congress, which had not intended cause candidates to receive federal matching funds. Congress added one more amendment to several already under consideration in the Spring of 1976 to stop federal funds from going to any candidate for a Presidential nomination who received less than ten percent of the vote in two consecutive competitive primaries. For all practical purposes, that meant that funds raised in the year before the primaries began could be matched from federal coffers if otherwise qualified, but those raised after the first two primaries in which a losing candidate actively campaigned could not be. The Federal Election Commission interpreted “primary” to mean seeking the nomination of a party – even if it didn’t have actual primary elections. Consequently, this new requirement was harder on candidates for major party nominations – which hold many primaries – than on those pursuing minor party nominations – which rarely have any. McCormack was the first and last woman seeking a major party nomination to receive federal matching funds.

In 1980 McCormack ran for President again, as the candidate of the Right-to-Life Party. This party was founded in 1970 by the same group of mostly Catholic Long Island housewives behind the Pro-Life Action Committee. Becoming acquainted through a book club, they were radicalized by passage of New York’s liberalized abortion law. RtL endorsed candidates in various races and also ran their own. In 1978 RtL ran Mary Tobin, another of its founders, for Governor of New York and McCormack for Lt. Governor. When they received 2.6 percent of the vote, RtL qualified for a ballot line in New York. In 1980 Republican candidate Ronald Reagan lobbied for the RtL endorsement but didn’t get it because of his support for pro-choice Republicans. RtL ran McCormack instead. She did not receive any federal matching funds for seeking her party’s nomination. McCormack was on the ballot only in New York, New Jersey and Kentucky (the latter two as an independent), but with write-ins received 32,327 votes in six states. The RtL Party continues to endorse candidates in New York which support its narrow anti-abortion stance.

The Left-wing Parties

The movements of the 1960s -- especially that against the War in Viet Nam -- stimulated the formation of a lot of small parties; in 1968 nine ran their own candidates for President in 25 states. Some got enough votes to qualify for a semi-permanent ballot line in different states, which means they could run candidates without going through the more burdensome petition process for each election that was otherwise required. One of these was the California Peace and Freedom Party. Founded on June 23, 1967, it has run hundreds of candidates in state and local elections in order to talk about its issues and maintain its ballot position, occasionally winning a few local offices.

As a left-wing party with a California ballot line, it has a valuable resource which it sometimes makes available to candidates from ideologically compatible parties. In 1971 it joined with similar parties in other states to form the national People’s Party. This grouping ran tickets in 1972 and 1976 before being destroyed by the usual factional fights and attempted takeovers. Dr. Benjamin Spock, famous for his baby book before becoming an anti-war activist, had the top spot in 1972 and the second spot in 1976. Heading the People’s Party ticket in 1976 was Margaret Wright, a black Los Angeles community activist. The Wright-Spock ticket got 49,024 votes from 10 states, 85% from California. In some years P&F has run is own presidential ticket, but only in California. In 1980 Maureen Smith and Elizabeth Barron received 18,116 votes and in 1996 Marsha Feinland and Kate McClatchy received 25,332 votes. All four women are party leaders and regular candidates for various offices under its label.

Sonia JohnsonSonia Johnson was the official P&F Party candidate for President in 1984, as part of an arrangement with the Citizen’s Party whose ticket she headed. Formed by disgruntled liberals in 1979, the Citizens Party was dedicated to returning government to the people, with a strong emphasis on environmental issues. Its 1980 candidate was founder Barry Commoner. Sonia Johnson had gained fame as a feminist. She founded Mormons for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1978, which led to her excommunication by the Mormon Church in 1979. In 1982 she staged a 37 day hunger strike in an unsuccessful effort to pressure the Illinois legislature to pass the ERA. On August 11, 1984 she was nominated as the second (and last) Presidential candidate of the Citizens Party after former Attorney General Ramsey Clark declined. Johnson ran as a feminist and a populist, demanding that minor party candidates be added to the televised debates. By raising $422,509 in contributions she qualified for $193,734.83 in federal matching funds for seeking the nomination. She was on the November ballot in 20 states and received 72,200 votes from 26 states, including write-ins. The Citizens Party soon died.

Not surprisingly, left-wing minor parties have been more likely than other parties to run a woman at the head of the ticket. Of the 18 women to appear on a November ballot in the Twentieth Century, 12 headed the tickets of various socialist parties and two others were at least progressive. Of the explicitly socialist parties which have run Presidential tickets, only the Socialist Labor Party has never run a woman for President. Founded in the 1870s, it fielded a Presidential ticket every four years from 1892 through 1976. It did run a woman for VP in 1972 and 1976.

Three other explicitly socialist parties have run women. The Socialist Party, founded in 1901, ran its first woman for Governor (of Washington State) in 1912, and its first woman for President in 1988. Willa Kenoyer, a free-lance writer from Michigan, received 3,882 votes from 11 states. Its second woman, Mary Cal Hollis, received 4,706 votes -- mostly write-ins -- from 12 states in 1996. Hollis was a self-described "stay-at-home mom" and former special education teacher who had once been a Democrat. These women illustrate the networks among left wing parties. Kenoyer was formerly the national co-chair of the Citizens Party. Hollis sought the nomination of the Green Party, receiving 27 percent of the vote at its nominating convention (which Ralph Nader won).

The Workers World Party has put the most women on at least one Presidential ballot, though two of the four women were placeholders. They are: 1980, Deirdre Griswold and Larry Holmes; 1984, Gavrielle Holmes and Milton Vera in Ohio and Rhode Island, (Larry Holmes with Gloria LaRiva in nine other states); 1992, Gloria LaRiva and Larry Holmes; 1996 and 2000, Monica Moorehead and Gloria LaRiva.

Founded in 1959 as a Stalinist spin-off of the Socialist Workers Party, the WWP is a small, disciplined party dedicated to leading a worker’s revolution. It has run Presidential tickets since 1980, rotating the top spot among its leaders. It added campaigns to its political repertoire in order to reach a wider audience for its view on national policies.

The first WWP candidate was one of its founders. Deirdre Griswold grew up in Buffalo, NY in a family of socialists. Following in her steelworker father’s footsteps, she dropped out of college to work in a variety of low-level jobs while devoting herself to political activism and union work. In 1970 she became editor of Workers World, the WWP weekly newspaper. She and her running mate campaigned actively, speaking in over 70 cities around the country and appearing on many radio shows. Griswold was the only actual candidate to show up when five left-wing parties held their own debate in New York City on October 9, 1980. In November she got 13,300 votes in 18 states.

In 1984 the WWP ran Larry Holmes and Gloria LaRiva as its presidential ticket. However, several states would not put them on the ballot because they were both too young to be President. The WWP put Holmes’ wife, Gavrielle, on the ballot in Ohio and Rhode Island with a different running mate because they met the age requirements, but campaigned for its real ticket, not the surrogates. Gloria LaRiva has been a frequent candidate. She was the WWP’s vice presidential candidate four times and ran for numerous state and local offices for the California Peace and Freedom Party. In 1988 she helped change the ballot access law in her birth state of New Mexico as a plaintiff in a case to put the WWP on the general election ballot. The US District Court found unconstitutional a New Mexico law requiring that all parties provide 500 signatures of voters declaring that they were also members of the party. The WWP didn’t run a campaign in 1992, but did put Gloria LaRiva on the New Mexico ballot as its presidential candidate to hold the spot for future races. Even without a campaign, the WWP ticket got 181 votes.

Monica Moorehead was the WWP’s most successful candidate. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1952, her family moved to Hampton, Virginia in time for her to attend one of the few integrated high schools in Virginia. She became politically active after she refused to play Dixie in her high school band, progressing from selling the Black Panther newspaper to corresponding with Panthers in prison to working for prisoners rights. After college she taught grammar school, joined the WWP in 1975 and was elected to the National Committee in 1979. In 1996, she and runningmate Gloria LaRiva got 29,083 votes from 12 states. In 2000 they received only 4,795 votes from four states. Although their 1996 campaign budget was less than $10,000, they were still paying off the debt ten years later.

The Worker’s League formed from a 1966 split in the SWP, but didn’t abandon its Trotskyist roots. It ran Helen Halyard in 1992; she got 1,432 votes in Michigan (her home state) and 1,618 votes in New Jersey. Halyard has run for numerous offices as the WL candidate. In 1996 the Workers League founded and was absorbed by the Socialist Equality Party, which continued to run candidates, but not another woman.

The Most Successful Female Minor Party Candidate

The only woman ever to appear on the ballot in all 50 states plus D.C. was Lenora Branch Fulani, who headed the ticket of the New Alliance Party (NAP) in 1988 and 1992. Both times she ran with another woman. Their success in getting on the ballot was due to the rather unusual nature of the NAP. Founded in New York City in 1979, the NAP was the creation of Dr. Fred Newman, who encouraged participation in radical politics as part of his psychotherapy practice. Some alumni of his group moved to other states where they started their own practices employing Newman’s theories. The result was a cult-like group of a couple hundred people dedicated enough to work full time for little or no pay, joined by a few hundred more supporters who worked part time for little or no pay.

Born and raised in Chester, Pennsylvania, Fulani joined Newman’s therapy group in the early 1980s while a graduate student in psychology at the City University of New York and quickly became its primary public persona. Bold and articulate, she ran for numerous offices in New York before becoming the NAP’s second presidential candidate in 1988. NAP had learned from its 1984 campaign what it needed to do in each state to get on the ballot. Wherever possible, NAP members took over small, single-state parties with their own ballot lines (e.g. the Solidarity Party in Illinois). It also had lawyers among its members ready and willing to go to court. The ability of the NAP’s supporters to move from state to state in order to gather 1.5 million signatures on state petitions made Fulani, in her words, “a major minor candidate.”

Although Newman had declared himself to be a Marxist, and even a Trotskyist at one time, the NAP’s own political philosophy was muddled. It said publicly that it was black-led, pro-gay and progressive, but it often attacked liberal political candidates and left-leaning groups. It supported almost any black leader who had a following, such as Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrahkan, who is not pro-gay or progressive, even when such support brought widespread criticism. Its members often joined other groups in order to disrupt them or take them over. In 1988 Fulani said her primary purpose in running was to take votes away from Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. In 1992, Fulani ran in the New Hampshire Democratic primary to continue her attacks on Democrats.

NAP also gathered signatures for the 1992 general election, eventually putting Fulani on the ballot in every state except California, Oklahoma and Florida. To get the coveted ballot line of the California Peace and Freedom Party, Fulani entered its primaries, receiving almost 51 percent of the 8,289 votes cast. However, the P&F primary result was overruled at its nominating convention. There delegates refused to give her the nomination, reflecting the sour experiences many of them had had with the NAP.

The NAP was also very successful in raising money. For the 1988 campaign it raised $2,013,323.42 for which it received $922,106.34 in federal matching funds. For 1992, it raised $4,137,281 for which it received $2,011,929.42 in primary matching funds. NAP said over 200 volunteers collected all this money by knocking on doors and soliciting donations on street corners, mostly in New York and California. Much of the money was spent for services provided by organizations created by NAP.

It was less successful in winning votes. In 1988 217,219 people voted for the NAP ticket. In 1992 only 73,714 did so.

Fulani liked running for President and probably would have run again if Newman had not disbanded the New Alliance Party in 1994. Instead, NAP members became heavily involved in what became the new Reform Party. They helped Ross Perot get on the ballot as a Presidential candidate in 1996 and worked in his campaign. On March 19, 1996 Fulani filed her last statement of candidacy for President with the Federal Election Commission. This time she listed her party affiliation as “none.”

The Other Minor Party Candidates

The only clearly right wing party to run a woman for President was the American Party which ran Diane Beall Templin in 1996. This Party evolved from the American Independent Party created by Alabama Governor George Wallace when he ran for President in 1968. After he returned to the Democratic Party in 1972, his creation broke into two competing parties. While both ran tickets in most Presidential elections, both steadily declined in votes received and in the number of states providing those votes. With a budget of less than $3,000 Templin and her running mate obtained 557 votes from Colorado and 1,290 from Utah. She didn’t get any votes from her home state of California, where she was an attorney and real estate broker and had previously run for office. In 2004 Templin once again was the candidate of the American Party but didn’t qualify for a single ballot line.

Two other women have run for President as minor party candidates whose political views defy classification. Isabel Masters has made a career out of running for President. Born in 1918, campaigning was her second career after many years as a secondary school teacher. In 1981 a “divine revelation [told her] to seek the presidency.” She declared herself a candidate for President in 1984 but did not get on a ballot. The self-described "International Evangelist" succeeded in getting on the Republican Party primary ballot of Oklahoma, her home state, in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Her most successful year was 1992 when she was also on the primary ballot in Kansas, where she lived at the time. In 1992 and 1996 she headed her own Looking Back Party in November, but was only on the Arkansas ballot. Some of her six children shared her interest in politics. Two were her running mates. In 1992 she and Walter Masters received 327 votes from Arkansas and 12 votes from California (his state of residence). In 1996, she and Shirley Jean Masters did a little better, getting 749 votes from Arkansas, 2 from California, plus 1 vote from Maryland. Daughter Cora taught political science in the District of Columbia and married DC Mayor Marion Barry. Masters filed statements of candidacy with the FEC for the Republican Party nomination for 2000 and 2004 although she neither raised nor spent any money. As late as 2006, now retired and living in Florida, Masters was resisting the FEC’s efforts to “terminate her reporting obligation.”

Cathy Gordon Brown was on the 2000 ballot in her home state of Tennessee as an Independent, receiving 1,606 votes. She never filed a statement of candidacy or any reports with the FEC – only required if her receipts or disbursements were over $5,000. But she did tell ABC news that “I always wanted to be the first woman president.”

No woman headed a minor party ticket in 2004, although the usual plethora of minor parties were on the ballot in at least one state that year.

The Major Party Candidates

Between 1964 and 2004, 22 women were on the ballot in Democratic primaries and 14 ran in Republican primaries – some more than once. Some states, such as new Hampshire, make it very easy to get on the ballot and consequently attract a lot of candidates; others make it hard. Most of the women, like most of the men, were only on the ballot in one state. One of these was Caroline Pettinato Killeen, who was on the New Hampshire Democratic Party primary ballot in 1992, 1996, and 2004. A retired Catholic nun from Scranton, Pennsylvania, she acquired the title of "Hemp Lady" from her many campaigns for the legalization of marijuana. Her best showing was in 1996 when she got 391 votes.

In addition to those already discussed, seven women were on major party primary ballots in more than one state. The most successful Republican woman in getting on the ballot was Tennie Rogers, whose name was on more state primary ballots than Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. A retired teacher and registered nurse, she got 7,677 votes in nine Republican Party primaries in 1992. A strong supporter of “Christian Family Values,” Rogers got into politics when her uninsured car was hit by an insured driver and she lost her driver’s license for a year. She became militantly opposed to mandatory insurance laws as an example of oppressive state regulation and ran for President to campaign against them (even though these laws are matters of state policy, not national). Although a California resident, she was not on that state’s ballot. She later moved to Oklahoma, which had given her 674 votes in 1992. But she only got 47 votes (in New Hampshire and Mississippi) in 1996. She tried again in 2000 – spending $66 without getting on a single ballot.

The closest equivalent Democratic woman was Elvena E. Lloyd-Duffie, who was on the 1996 Democratic primary ballot in five states. An accountant and native of Arkansas, she got 92,324 votes in a year in which there were very few Democratic challengers to incumbent Bill Clinton. Only three other women have been on more Democratic primary ballots or received more votes. (Chisholm, McCormack and Braun)

Fewer women have run in Republican primaries than in Democratic primaries, but that is also true of men. Two women have run in the Democratic primary and also as a minor party candidate (McCormack and Fulani); one Republican has done so (Masters). Mary Jane Rachner was on the North Dakota and New Hampshire Republican primary ballots in 1988 and the Minnesota Democratic primary ballot in 1992. Pat SchroederA retired teacher living in St. Paul, Minnesota, she told the press that she ran for President because the spirits of her late mother and grandmother told her to.

Most women who have run in the major party primaries have not been taken seriously as candidates. However, two women who did not appear on any primary ballots were.

In 1987 Congresswoman Pat Schroeder (CO), explored the possibility of running in the 1988 Democratic primaries. Starting in June, by September she had only raised $872,462. Convinced that she couldn’t raise the money to make a serious effort, she withdrew.

E DoleIn 1999 former Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole also raised her finger to test the political winds. After receiving $5,461,958 in contributions she decided the Republican climate was too chilly. Instead, she successfully ran for Senator from North Carolina in 2002. Despite withdrawing early from the 2000 Presidential campaign, she received 231 write-in votes in the New Hampshire Republican primary.

The Twenty-First Century

The first presidential election of the twenty-first century saw not one female minor party candidate get her name on a general election ballot, but nine women did for a Democratic primary and one for a Republican Party primary ballot. The most prominent of these was Carol Mosely Braun, former Democratic Senator from Illinois. As a professional politician with a long track record in elected and appointed offices, she was taken seriously as a candidate. Her campaign took place primarily in 2003 because she dropped out on January 15, 2004. She was endorsed by the Political Action Committee of the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus on the symbolic date of August 26, 2003 -- the 83rd anniversary of the 19th Amendment. However, by the start of the 2004 primaries she had only raised $627,869 in campaign funds -- not enough money to run a serious race. After coming in third in D.C.’s non-binding primary in January she announced her withdrawal. However, her name was already on the ballot in several states, resulting in over a hundred thousand votes.

Changes in Public Opinion

In 1959 James Farley, chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the New Deal and legendary political boss, published an article in the popular magazine This Week, with the provocative title “Why We’ll Never Have a Woman President.” Even though he admitted that women “are physically stronger than men” and their “mental equals,” he still believed that women would never make the grade because: 1. Women couldn’t get “the broad, varied training now needed for the world’s most demanding job;” 2. “Women tend to be more emotional and subjective than men;” and 3. “She wouldn’t command respect” as Commander in Chief.

Maurine Neuberger, wife of the Democratic Senator from Oregon, promptly wrote a letter of disagreement, which Republican Senator George Aiken of Vermont put into the Congressional Record of May 20, 1959. Perhaps as a sign that the times sometimes change faster than expert opinion, less than two years later she was elected Senator from Oregon, and in 1964, Sen. Aiken placed the name of Margaret Chase Smith into nomination at the Republican Convention.

At the time that Farley wrote, only 58 percent of respondents to the Gallop Poll were willing to vote for “a well-qualified woman of your own party for President.” The positive responses would stay between 55 and 60 percent throughout the 1960s. Ironically, men were more likely to answer yes than women, as did more older people than younger ones. When this question was first asked was in 1937, only a third of the respondents said they were willing to vote for a woman. After World War II almost half said yes.

When in 1972 a similar question was asked by the National Opinion Research Center, over 70 percent of both sexes said they were willing to vote for a woman for President. By then the emerging women’s liberation movement was changing attitudes toward women and public support for a wide variety of women’s rights had increased significantly. Young people in general and women in particular had changed. In 1972 women high school graduates were more approving than equivalent men, and women college graduates were much more approving. Only among the lesser educated were men more supportive than women.

After that great leap upward the percent of respondents willing to vote for a qualified woman from their own party for President continued a slow but steady increase until it hit the 90 percent level in 1990. It has generally stayed above the 90 percent level, though responses have varied with the wording of the questions.

Some have argued that responses to questions like this don’t really reflect what voters would do in the privacy of a voting booth. Many people hold generic prejudices which they won’t admit to a pollster because they know these views are socially unacceptable. Their answers also change when the question evokes an image of a specific woman.

When Rep. Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for Vice President by the Democratic Party in 1984, Republicans were much less likely than Democrats to say that they were willing to vote for a woman for President. Republican voters, particularly those who voted for Carter in 1980 but voted for Reagan in 1984, were ten percent less likely to say they would vote for a woman for President in 1985 than were willing to say so in 1983.

The image of Hillary Clinton running for President had a similar effect. A December 2006 L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll, done when speculation about a Clinton candidacy was much in the news, found that only four percent of registered voters admitted that they would not vote for any woman for President. When broken down by party, six percent of Republicans, four percent of Democrats and three percent of Independents said they would not do so. There was also a gender gap; five percent of men but only three percent of women would not vote for a generic female candidate for President.

However, when specific women are matched against specific men, the responses bear little resemblance to the generic answer to the generic candidate. An Annenberg Survey done in the middle of 2004 found that if Hillary Clinton were running against President George Bush she would do no worse than Sen. Kerry – who became the Democratic candidate that year. Similarly, Sen. Elizabeth Dole ran almost as well against Kerry as Bush did. In this survey, a substantial number of the seven percent of total respondents who said they were “very unlikely” to vote for a generic woman for President, would vote for Clinton or Dole when matched against Bush or Kerry. To sum up, despite some lingering antiquated attitudes about putting a woman into the country’s highest office, partisanship is much more important than gender.


I’d like to thank the following people for helping me locate the information in this article and/or providing it directly: Sarah Chilton, Judy Baston, Michael Myerson, Jack Radey, Syd Stapleton, Brian Shannon, Gwendolyn Mink, Gretchen Kafoury, Jill Norgen, Elizabeth Martinez, Janet Spikes, Charlene Mitchell, Stoney McMurray, Yolanda Retter, Gloria La Riva, Deirdre Griswold, Larry Holmes.

Information on campaign receipts, expenditures and public funding for 1976 and later is available from the Federal Election Commission. Some is on line at The following web resources were also useful, though the information on them is not always reliable.

Bennetts, Leslie. “Goal of Workers World Candidate Is to Spread the Socialist Message.” New York Times, 28 August 1980, B8. (Griswold)

Bernstein, Phyllis. “Anti-Abortion Candidate for President.” New York Times, 30 November 1975, 126. (McCormack)

Carroll, Maurice. “The Unlikely Beginning of the Right to Life Party.” New York Times, 25 November 1978, 25.

CBS News/New York Times Poll. “A Woman for President.” 5 February 2006. Download PDF

Chisholm, Shirley. The Good Fight. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

Ciment, James, and Immanuel Ness, editors. The Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2000. (Fulani, Johnson, McCormack, Moorehead)

Collier, Barnard. “Crowd Here Cool to Communists.” New York Times, 1 October 1968, 64. (Mitchell)

Connors, Cathy. "A third (sic) African-American Woman runs for President of the U.S.” Amsterdam News (New York) Ethnic NewsWatch. 2 March 1996 87:9:34. (Moorehead)

Cruz, Tania and Eric K. Yamamoto. "A Tribute to Patsy Takemoto Mink." Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal 4, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 569-597.

Dionne Jr., E.J. “5 Parties of the Left Conduct a Presidential Debate.” New York Times, 12 October 1980, 34. (Griswold)

Farley, James A. “Why We’ll Never Have A Woman President” This Week, 18 January 1959, 8, 9, 16.

Ferree, Myra Marx. “A Woman for President? Changing Responses: 1958-1972.” Public Opinion Quarterly 38, no. 3 (Fall 1974): 390-399.

Fox, Mary Virginia. Lady for the Defense: A Biography of Belva Lockwood. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

Freedland, Jonathan. “On the Bottom Of the Ballot; Not for Bush or Clinton or Perot? Check Out These Candidates.” Washington Post, 1992, D1.

Fulani, Lenora B. The Making of a Fringe Candidate. New York: Castillo International, 1992.

Gottlieb, Martin. “Minor Candidate’s Fund-Raising Success Turns Spotlight on Party.” New York Times, 31 December 1991, A-16. (Fulani)

Grann, David. “What you don’t know about Lenora Fulani could hurt you: Coming Soon to a Presidential Campaign Near You.” The New Republic, 13 December 1999, 20.

Hafetz, David. "Last of the True Believers." New York Times, 2 May 2004, Late Edition, 14:1:4. (Griswold)

Harrington, Maureen. "Other Arkansan Ready for Race." Denver Post, 4 November 1996, 2d Edition, A-10. (Hollis)

Honan, William H. “If you don’t like Hubert, Dick or George, How About Lar, Yetta or Eldridge?” New York Times Magazine 27 October 1968, SM 110.

“Hypothetical Showings of Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Suggest that Women’s Chances of Winning the Presidency are Better than Some Polls Say, Annenberg Data Show.” National Annenberg Election Survey ‘04 press release, 18 June 2004. Download PDF

Kihss, Peter. “Communists Name Negro Woman for President.” New York Times, 8 July 1968, 3. (Mitchell)

Koplinski, Brad. Hats In The Ring: Conversations with Presidential Candidates. North Bethesda, MD: Presidential Publishing, 2000. (Chisholm and Mink)

Kupferberg, Seth M. “Socialist Fish in a Capitalist Sea.” Harvard Crimson, 3 November 1972. (Jenness)

Lawless, Jennifer L. and Richard L. Fox. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. (Public opinion on voting for a woman for President, see chart on 23).

Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll, Study #539. “Clinton, McCain Face Obstacles On the Road to Nomination.” 13 December 2006. Download PDF.

Lynn, Frank. “Right to Life’s Political Dilemma.” New York Times, 20 July 1980, LI-14. (McCormack)

_______, “Right to Life Party Won’t Slate Reagan.” New York Times, August 27, 1980, A17. (McCormack)

Norgren, Jill. “Lockwood in ’84." Wilson Quarterly (Autumn 2002): 12-20.

______. Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Owen, Penny. "Woman Plans 2nd Presidential Bid - Tulsan Says She Stands for Christian Values." Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK) 13 August 1995. (Rogers)

Schmidt, Patricia L. Margaret Chase Smith: Beyond Convention. Orono, Me.: University of Maine Press, 1996.

Schroeder, Pat. 24 Years of House Work... and the Place Is Still a Mess. Kansas City, MO: Andrew McMeels, 1998.

Selbin, Eric. “It’s My Party and I’ll Try if I Want To: Third Party Alternatives to Bush and Dukakis.” The Utne Reader, Sept./Oct. 1988. (Kenoyer and Fulani)

Smallwood, Frank. The Other Candidates: Third Parties in Presidential Elections. Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983. (Griswold and McCormack)

Smith, Margaret Chase, Declaration of Conscience, Edited by William C. Lewis, Jr. New York, Doubleday, 1972.

Smith, Tom W. “Did Ferraro’s Candidacy Reduce Public Support for Feminism?” GSS Social Change Report No. 22, November 1985.

Sullivan, Bartholomew. "Ark. woman says she has chance against Clinton." The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 21 May 1996, First Edition, Metro:2B. (Lloyd-Duffie)

Underhill, Lois Beachy. The Woman Who Ran For President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull. New York: Penguin Books. 1995.

Vallin, Marlene Boyd. Margaret Chase Smith : Model Public Servant. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Waldron, Martin. “A Female Trotskyite Nominee Stumping in Texas.” New York Times, 2 January 1972, 57. (Jenness)

Woodlee, Yolanda and Linda Wheeler. “Cora Barry's Mom Eyes Oval Office.” Washington Post, 8 February 1996, J01. (Masters)

Sources for the table: Number of Women on a ballot for President, 1964 - 2004

America at the Polls 1960-2004: Kennedy to George W. Bush - a Handbook of American Presidential Election Statistics, Vol. 2, Washington, D.C. CQ Press, 2005.

Guide to U.S. Elections, 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2005.

Congressional Quarterly only lists those candidates for President who appear on at least one ballot. However, once this qualification is met, it counts write-in votes in all states. Because CQ only provides the number of votes, it is sometimes hard to tell how many state ballots carry a candidate’s name. Therefore I have generally written that a candidate received X votes from Y states rather than was on the ballot in Y states. When I did write that a candidate was on the ballot in Y states the information came from another source, such as a newspaper story, a book, or an interview. The District of Columbia counts as a state from 1964 onward because the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1961 to allow its residents to vote for President.

I have found a couple errors in CQ reference books and there may be more.

Between 1964 and 2004, 18 women were on at least one state ballot as candidates for President in the general election; three were on a ballot in two years. I’ve counted the two women the SWP ran in 1972 as one, because Reed was a surrogate for Jenness. However, I also counted Gavrielle Holmes in 1988 even though she was a surrogate for Larry Holmes. Fourteen women were on at least one state ballot in a Republican primary election; two in two years, and one in three different years. Twenty-two women were on at least one state ballot in a Democratic primary election; two in two years, and one in three different years.

Four women are counted in two columns:

Ellen McCormick ran in several Democratic primaries in 1976 and at the head of her own ticket in 1980.

Lenora Fulani ran at the head of her own ticket in 1988 and 1992, and in the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 1992.

Isabel Masters ran in two Republican primaries before running at the head of her own party in 1992 and in the Oklahoma Republican primary before heading her own ticket in 1996.

Mary Jane Rachner was on the New Hampshire and North Dakota Republican primary ballots in 1988 and the Minnesota Democratic primary ballot in 1992.

Copyright © 2007 by Jo Freeman