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Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm.jpg
Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus
In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 1981
Leader Tip O'Neill
Preceded by Patsy Mink
Succeeded by Geraldine Ferraro
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 12th district
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1983
Preceded by Edna Kelly
Succeeded by Major Owens
Member of the
New York State Assembly
In office
January 1, 1965 – December 31, 1968
Preceded by Thomas Jones
Succeeded by Thomas R. Fortune
Constituency 17th district (1965)
45th district (1966)
55th district (1967–1968)
Personal details
Shirley Anita St. Hill

(1924-11-30)November 30, 1924
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 1, 2005(2005-01-01) (aged 80)
Ormond Beach, Florida, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Spouses Conrad Chisholm (m. 1949; div. 1977)
Arthur Hardwick, Jr.(m. 1977; his death 1986)
Education Brooklyn College (BA)
Columbia University (MA)

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and writer. She was a member of the Democratic Party.

Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York City. She studied at Brooklyn College.

She was a member of the United States House of Representatives for New York's 2nd district. She served as a representative from 1969 to 1983.

She ran for President of the United States in 1972 as a Democrat. She lost the primary to George McGovern. Chisholm became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States.

Early life

Shirley Anita St. Hill was born to immigrant parents on November 30, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York City. She was of Guyanese and Bajan descent. She had three younger sisters, two born within three years of her and one later. Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana before moving to Barbados. He arrived in New York City via Antilla, Cuba, in 1923. Her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados and arrived in New York City in 1921.

Charles St. Hill was a laborer who worked in a factory that made burlap bags and as a baker's helper. Ruby St. Hill was a skilled seamstress and domestic worker who experienced the difficulty of working outside the home while simultaneously raising her children. As a consequence, in November 1929, when Shirley turned five, she and her two sisters were sent to Barbados on the MS Vulcania to live with their maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale. Shirley later said, "Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn't need the black revolution to teach me that." Shirley and her sisters lived on their grandmother's farm in the Vauxhall village in Christ Church, where Shirley attended a one-room schoolhouse. She returned to the United States in 1934, arriving in New York on May 19 aboard the SS Nerissa. As a result of her time in Barbados, Shirley spoke with a West Indian accent throughout her life. In her 1970 autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed, she wrote: "Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason." Despite her U.S. birth, she would always consider herself a Barbadian American.

Beginning in 1939, she attended Girls' High School in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, a highly regarded, integrated school that attracted girls from throughout Brooklyn. She did well academically at Girls' High and was chosen to be vice president of the Junior Arista honor society. She was accepted at and offered scholarships to Vassar College and Oberlin College, but the family could not afford the room-and-board costs to go to either, so, instead, she selected Brooklyn College, where there was no charge for tuition and she could live at home and commute to the school.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1946, majoring in sociology and minoring in Spanish (a language that she would employ at times during her political career). She won prizes for her debating skills and graduated cum laude. During her time at Brooklyn College, she was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Harriet Tubman Society. As a member of the Harriet Tubman Society, she advocated for inclusion (specifically in terms of the integration of black soldiers in the military during World War II), the addition of courses that focused on African-American history and the involvement of more women in the student government. However, this was not her first introduction to activism or politics. Growing up, she was surrounded by politics, as her father was an avid supporter of Marcus Garvey's and a dedicated supporter of the rights of trade union members. She saw her community advocate for its rights as she witnessed the Barbados workers' and anti-colonial independence movements.


Shirley Chisholm NYWTS
Chisholm reviewing political statistics in 1965.

In 1964, Chisholm ran for and was elected to the New York State Legislature. In 1968, she ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat, and was elected to the House of Representatives. Defeating Republican candidate James Farmer, Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 as one of its founding members.

As a fresh black woman, Chisholm was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee. Given her urban district, she felt the placement was irrelevant to her constituents and shocked many by asking for reassignment. She was then placed on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as House Majority Leader over John Conyers. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee, which was her preferred committee. She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.

All those Chisholm hired for her office were women, half of them black. Chisholm said that during her New York legislative career, she had faced much more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.

Shirley Chisholm portrait
Portrait of Chisholm by Kadir Nelson in the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives

In the 1972 U.S. presidential election, she made a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. She survived three assassination attempts during the campaign. She campaigned in 12 states and won the Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey primaries earning 152 delegates. However, she lost the hotly contested primaries to George McGovern at the convention in Miami Beach, Florida. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, as a symbolic gesture, McGovern opponent Hubert H. Humphrey released his black delegates to Chisholm, giving her a total of 152 first-ballot votes for the nomination. Chisholm's base of support was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women.

Chisholm said she ran for the office "in spite of hopeless odds... to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo." Among the volunteers who were inspired by her campaign was Barbara Lee, who continued to be politically active and was elected as a congresswoman 25 years later. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem attempted to run as Chisholm delegates in New York.

Chisholm created controversy when she visited rival and ideological opposite George Wallace in the hospital soon after his shooting in May 1972, during the 1972 presidential primary campaign. Several years later, when Chisholm worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, Wallace helped gain votes of enough Southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House.

From 1977 to 1981, during the 95th Congress and 96th Congress, Chisholm was elected to a position in the House Democratic leadership, as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus.

Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported spending increases for education, health care and other social services, and reductions in military spending.

In 1970, she authored a child care bill. The bill passed the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon, who called it "the Sovietization of American children".

In the area of national security and foreign policy, Chisholm worked for the revocation of Internal Security Act of 1950. She opposed the American involvement in the Vietnam War and the expansion of weapon developments. During the Jimmy Carter administration, she called for better treatment of Haitian refugees.

Ed Towns, Shirley Chisholm, Gwen Towns
Shirley Chisholm (center) with Congressman Edolphus Towns (left) and his wife, Gwen Towns (right)

Personal life

Chisholm met Conrad O. Chisholm in the late 1940s. He had migrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1946, and he later became a private investigator who specialized in negligence-based lawsuits. They married in 1949 in a large West Indian-style wedding. The marriage ended in a divorce, which was granted on February 4, 1977, in the Dominican Republic.

In 1978, Chisholm married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a former New York State Assemblyman whom Chisholm had known when they both served in that body. While her legal name was now Hardwick, she would continue to use Chisholm in politics. After leaving Congress in January 1983, Chisholm made her home in Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. Her husband, Arthur Hardwick, died in August 1986. Chisholm had no children and moved to Florida when she retired in 1991.

Retirement and death

Chisholm announced her retirement from Congress in 1982. Her seat was won by a fellow Democrat, Major Owens, in 1983.

After retirement she resumed her career in education, teaching politics and women's studies and being named to the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College from 1983 to 1987. In 1985 she was a visiting scholar at Spelman College. In 1984 and 1988, she campaigned for Jesse Jackson for the presidential elections. In 1990, Chisholm, along with 15 other African-American women and men, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton nominated her to the ambassadorship to Jamaica, but she could not serve due to poor health. In the same year she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Chisholm retired to Florida and died on January 1, 2005, in Ormond Beach near Daytona Beach. She was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.

In February 2005, Shirley Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary film, aired on U.S public television. It chronicled Chisholm's 1972 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. It was directed and produced by independent, African-American filmmaker Shola Lynch. The film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. On April 9, 2006, the film was announced as a winner of a Peabody Award.


In 1975, Chisholm was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Smith College.

In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Shirley Chisholm on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Shirley Chisholm para niños

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