Historic Nomination Prompts Reflection on Trailblazing Women Across Party Lines

Earlier this year, in our Thought Leadership publication, “Gender Equality: Good for Business,” we highlighted the gender gap in corporate America’s c-suites and boardrooms and the resulting underutilization of a deep talent pool. While we remain non-partisan on the merits of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, her de facto nomination to head the Democratic ticket following Tuesday’s primary is an important milestone in American history.

As is always the case with these kinds of breakthroughs, the path to this moment was cleared by many other trailblazing women from across the political spectrum, Republican, Democrat, and even Libertarian and Green. In 2008, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin garnered the most popular and electoral votes for a woman on a presidential ticket, topping Geraldine Ferraro’s groundbreaking vice presidential candidacy in 1984. The woman to receive the most votes for president is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, who received over 450,000 votes in 2012.

Few, however, know that the first electoral vote cast for a woman as part of a ticket was Tonie Nathan, who received an electoral vote as the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 1972. Nathan and Libertarian presidential candidate John Hospers received an electoral vote from a “faithless elector,” Roger MacBride of Virginia. With a wife who grew up in Nebraska and a nine year-old daughter, MacBride is well known in my house. MacBride was a friend and informal student of Rose Wilder Lane, whose mother was Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series. MacBride had inherited the rights to the Little House series from Rose (after reading the books it’s hard to refer to her by her last name—she’s just Rose to me), who was an early theorist of the American libertarian movement. In fact, MacBride had both written sequels to the Little House books and played a role in helping to produce the television series. In 1972, MacBride presciently cast his electoral vote for Hospers and Nathan instead of for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, perhaps partially in homage to the frontier spirit.

Of course, there have been many other trailblazing women in politics: Sandra Day O’Conner, first female Supreme Court justice, Nancy Pelosi, first female Speaker of the House, and other less known figures, such as Nancy Kassebaum, who in 1978, became the first woman elected to the Senate who did not first finish out the term of a deceased husband.

While the courage of all of these talented women is admirable, one cannot look at the timeframe of these accomplishments without thinking, “What took us so long?” But directionally, we’re on the right track, even if the train is a little slow compared with the 60+ countries that have already had a woman occupying their top political office. In a country whose attitude toward Washington insiders is usually “throw the bums out” (even if incumbents are re-elected at about a 90% clip), we welcome expanded opportunity for female leadership, left, right, and center, and the positive impact it will increasingly have on our nation.

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