Why Didn’t Shirley Chisholm Have Kids?

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In Netflix’s biographical drama film ‘Shirley,’ Shirley Chisholm (Regina King) is surrounded by her family members when she sets out to become the president of the country. Her husband Conrad Chisholm extends his support to her despite the political commitments that take her away from him. Her sister Muriel St. Hill and their mother also remain integral parts of her life. However, there is an evident absence of children in her life. In reality, after marrying twice, Shirley didn’t have any kids. While the movie doesn’t dive into her childless life extensively, her biographers have discussed the same in length in their works!

Shirley Chisholm’s Miscarriages

Shirley Chisholm didn’t have kids because she suffered two miscarriages, both while sharing her life with her first husband Conrad Chisholm. “They [Shirley and Conrad] were a very close couple, sharing a love for theater, reading political biographies, and swimming. They vacationed in the Caribbean once a year. Their only disappointment was that Chisholm miscarried twice and they had no children,” Barbara Winslow wrote in the biography ‘Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change.’ Even though Shirley eventually divorced Conrad and married Arthur Hardwick Jr., the couple didn’t have any children either.

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According to Julie Gallagher, a professor of History and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University, Shirley’s political aspiration might have contributed to her childlessness as well. “He [Conrad] also accepted the reality that the couple [Shirley and Conrad] would not have children. Neither spoke publicly about the issue. It is unclear whether health issues or Shirley Chisholm’s political aspirations ultimately kept the couple childless,” Gallagher wrote in “Waging ‘The Good Fight’:  The Political Life of Shirley Chisholm, 1953-1982,” which was published in the Journal of African American History.

Shirley had spoken about her maternal feelings and wish to be surrounded by children in an interview given to Camille Cosby for ‘National Visionary Leadership Project.’ Since she was the eldest child of Charles Christopher St. Hill and Ruby Seale, she had to take care of three younger sisters, who ignited maternalistic feelings in her. “I used to watch my mother with my younger sisters, and part of my responsibility, even though I was so young, was to also help take care of my sisters. And I just developed a kind of maternalistic—let me use that word—maternalistic attitude towards my sisters. And I used to love to put them to bed and coach them. I just really loved being with children,” Shirley told Camille.

Image Credit: Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Despite not becoming a mother, Shirley worked hard for the well-being of children in the country. She played an integral role in creating the National School Lunch Program, which offers “nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches” to children in “public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions” each school day. For mothers, Shirley helped to establish the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which provides “supplemental foods, nutrition education, and healthcare referrals” to “low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5,” as per the Department of Agriculture.

Shirley’s love for children is renowned. She must have been determined to take care of the kids around her when she couldn’t give birth to one. “The real environmental problem is in the slums where people live surrounded by garbage and their children eat the peeling chips of lead paint and are bitten by rats… Let’s do something about the children first, and then worry about the whales,” she once told a group of students from the Florida State University, as per Winslow’s biography of the late politician.

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