Who Was Shirley Chisholm?

‘Mrs. America’ is a nine-episode long mini-series that seeks to explore real people, events, and the collective and unique mentality of people regarding the rising tide of the second-wave feminist movement. The show does a decent job of representing true iconic characters who have been instrumental in understanding the American psyche. Though it leans on women’s perspectives through its central characters, it leaves no stone unturned to make a credible point.

The insightful take on people like Phyllis Schlafly, Gloria Steinem, and Shirley Chisholm, becomes the show’s major selling point. This, combined with the politics of drama, makes it an entertaining peek into some important historical figures and their contribution to the world, whether it be radical or conservative.

Who was Shirley Chisholm?

Caught up in contemporary world affairs and history, one might need a guide to this iconic figure from the past. However, someone who keeps tabs on all historical events that matter will tell you that Chisholm was one of a kind for carving a path that many cannot even imagine doing today. Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, in the year 1924. Coming from an immigrant family, her parents found it challenging to take care of all their children. As a result, Chisholm spent most of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother. She completed her schooling there. She came back to New York in 1934. This is perhaps why she always considered herself a Barbadian American.

She continued to pursue her education and received a college degree from Brooklyn College. She worked as an educator before she entered politics.

Chisholm became a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly in 1956. By then, she had also received an honor of ‘Salute to Women Doers’ in New York. She debated on what constitutes real literacy, unemployment benefits for workers, and pushed for black representation. As a result, she was elected as the Democratic National Committeewoman. Following this, she ran for the US House of Representatives.

Shirley Chisholm: Presidential Campaign

Her evolution and growth were not always easy for her, as she had to struggle with certain biases and setbacks. She shined through all of it with her campaign phrase that said, ‘Unbought and Unbossed.’ True to the power of those words, she won defeating eminent personalities in the process. After she was appointed, she was assigned the House of Agricultural Committee. Though not okay with it, in the beginning, she proceeded to help the poor with minimum access to food. In the parade of position and honors that followed, she joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.

Chisholm awoke to the idea of presidential candidacy in 1971. As a result of her presidential bid, she became the first black person from a major party to run for President of the United States. Her campaign was also strong during 1972, where in addition to the first title, she also became the first black woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. She was particular to state that she would represent all of the nation, and not merely the black community or the women. While she was proud of her heritage, she made it a point to be an accessible and inclusive candidate. Though she won in some states, she did not cut the President’s designation. 

Shirley Chisholm Husband

Shirley Chisholm’s first husband is Conrad O. Chisholm. They married in 1949. Originally from Jamaica, he settled in the US and worked as a private investigator. His work predominantly featured lawsuits concerning negligence. The couple, however, got divorced after several years into marriage.

She later married Arthur Hardwick Jr, who she met when they both served in the New York Assembly. He was a former assembly member who changed tracks to become the owner of a Buffalo liquor store. One of the reasons Chisholm retired was to take care of Wardwick, who had injured himself as a result of an automobile accident. He passed away in 1986. Chisholm did not have any children from either of her marriages.

In her time post-retirement from politics, she continued teaching. She mostly taught Sociology and Politics. Though retired, in 1990, she formed the African- American Women for Reproductive Freedom. She was nominated by Bill Clinton to serve as the US Ambassador to Jamaica; however, she declined the offer due to health reasons. She passed away on January 1, 2005. In 2015, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal for Freedom.

The Legacy

To imagine that she could have actually become the first African American woman President, instead of Richard Nixon (as he had won that term), is a hard one to be dismissed. In any case, the written testimonials to her thoughts and ideas succeed her in her memoirs, ‘Unbossed and Unbought,’ and ‘The Good Fight.’ It is crucial to remember that even at the pinnacle of her campaign, she never wanted to represent just one community, but the whole nation, with all its good and bad. Her approach and open ideology are what set her apart from the rest. (Feature Image Credit: Britannica.com)

Read More: Where Is Gloria Steinem Now?