Geraldine Ferraro dies at age 75; Mondale’s VP nominee remembered as pioneer

Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro on the campaign trail in 1984.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro on the campaign trail in 1984.

WASHINGTON — Geraldine Ferraro, who became the first woman to run for vice president on a major party presidential ticket after Walter Mondale selected her in 1984, has died. She was 75.

In a statement, Ferraro’s family said she died of complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer she was diagnosed with in 1988. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ferraro was initially given just five years to live, but survived to see Hillary Rodham Clinton come closer than any other woman before to the presidential nomination (Ferraro was a major Clinton supporter), and Sarah Palin named as John McCain’s presidential running mate.

Though women had run for president before — Republican Margaret Chase Smith in 1964 and Democrat Shirley Chisolm in 1972 both received votes at their respective party conventions — none had made the ticket and advanced to the general election.

In his memoir, “The Good Fight,” Mondale described in great detail why he picked Ferraro to be his vice presidential nominee. She was immensely qualified, he said, a House member with a good reputation there who “knew all the issues” and “had a lot of fire.” Mondale noted the political considerations of Ferraro, a candidate who might galvanize the women’s vote and said voters appeared ready to break the “white male mold” of presidential campaigns.

“Finally, I thought that putting a woman on a major-party ticket would change American expectations, permanently and for the better,” Mondale wrote. “Picking Ferraro was symbolic in that sense, but a symbolic gesture with consequences. Skeptical voters would see what an effective woman candidate could accomplish. Young women could see new horizons open up. Everyone would see how America had changed in our lifetimes, and more doors would open.”

Ferraro was a parent, teacher, attorney, congresswoman, vice presidential nominee, ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and to the end of her life remained a staunch advocate for equality and women’s rights. President Obama, in a statement, said his daughters Sasha and Malia “will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live.”

“Like so many women, I will never forget the day Geraldine Ferraro was named as the first woman Vice Presidential candidate,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “There she was in Minnesota at Walter Mondale’s side and it made me think anything and everything is possible.  When she was chosen there was only one woman in the United States Senate and now there are seventeen.”

Palin cited Ferraro as an inspiration of hers, and said when the two talked in 2010 they shared an “excited expectation that someday that final glass ceiling would be shattered by the election of a woman president.

“She was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to public service as a teacher, prosecutor, Congresswoman, and Vice Presidential candidate,” Palin said in a statement. “She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more. The world will miss her. May she rest in peace and may her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women.”

Further reading: 

Excerpt from ‘The Good Fight’: Mondale picks Ferraro — ‘A nation is stronger when it can tap all its talents’

Ferraro discusses her life and memoir with C-SPAN (Video: 1 hour 3 minutes)

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