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I’m With Her ... And Her ... And Her ... And Her

Spotlighting women who ran for office before the 19th Amendment

Her campaign was historic, and not without controversy. A prominent lawyer and internationalist, she identified inequalities, pushed for equal pay, and sought social change. Her supporters saw her as the country’s savior; her detractors saw her as a traitor to society, womanhood, and America itself. To millions, the question she raised was beyond scandalous: Could a woman really run for president? 

Over a century before Hillary Clinton became the first female major-party presidential nominee—and well before all U.S. women could even vote in an election—Belva Lockwood tore down walls in 1884 as the first woman to run a legitimate presidential campaign. She received just 4,100 votes, but hers were among the first cracks in that “highest, hardest glass ceiling” finally shattered by Clinton.

Lockwood’s is one of hundreds of stories lovingly highlighted through Her Hat Was in the Ring, a digital humanities project co-founded by Swarthmore’s Wendy Chmielewski documenting women who ran for political office before 1920, when the 19th Amendment granted all U.S. women the full right to vote. 

For the time, the concept seems mind-boggling: How could women run for and win office without the universal ability to vote? What men of that era would choose to vote for a female candidate over her male opponent?

“We started the project over eight years ago thinking there were about 50 women who ran for office before 1920,” says Chmielewski, the George R. Cooley Curator of the Peace Collection. “Historians assumed that the ratification of the 19th Amendment was the starting point. What we discovered: There were probably 5,000 to 6,000 women—many of whom were actually elected to office.”

Thousands more women were appointed to office by elected officials, Chmielewski notes, “but we have limited the project to women who went before the voters. Right to election is a significant marker of full citizenship.”

Some of these women are widely known and researched: Jeannette Rankin, for example—the first woman elected to Congress (and the only pre-19th Amendment woman to win a federal office). Also Belva Lockwood and fellow presidential pioneer Victoria Woodhull, whom some credit as the first woman to run for the Oval Office, but whose campaign wasn’t technically valid because she was too young … and incarcerated at election time.

But others are largely unheard-of: Susanna Salter, the country’s first female mayor (1887, in Argonia, Kan.). Olive Rose, a county register in Maine, and almost certainly the first U.S. woman elected to any office—in 1853. Not to mention hundreds of school board members, county superintendents of schools, and municipal and state officeholders.

Even Swarthmore’s own Lucretia Mott received a nomination for U.S. vice president—as well as a handful of voice votes at the 1848 Liberty Party convention—though it’s unlikely our Quaker matriarch had any knowledge of the nomination beforehand or intention of running.

“Most people don’t realize that to be elected, you need to be an elector, that is a voter,” says Chmielewski, who started Her Hat Was in the Ring in 2008 with Jill Norgren, a professor emerita of political science at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “Some states gave women early partial suffrage—for educational offices or even presidential candidates, in some cases. What we’ve found is as soon as states allowed women to run, they ran.”


THE IDEA FOR Her Hat Was in the Ring was sparked when Norgren reached out to Chmielewski at the Peace Collection while researching a biography on Belva Lockwood. Information on Lockwood is hard to come by—“Belva’s grandson sold all of her papers for scrap after she died,” Chmielewski says—but bits and pieces of her life story have made their way to the Peace Collection over the years. 

Recognizing Lockwood’s significance, and figuring sources on other early candidates would be equally difficult to find, Chmielewski and Norgren set out to create a database honoring all the women who campaigned for office before 1920.

Thinking it seemed like a manageable project, the pair pored over women’s suffrage texts, news articles, ballots, state statistical reports—picking up a few names here, a dozen there. 

Then one obscure article from 1912 referenced 750 elected women from Kansas alone, to the researchers’ shock and delight.

About half of the women had run for educational offices, since school suffrage was one of the first voting rights afforded to them by states—it was seen as an extension of women’s roles as mothers. But Chmielewski and Norgren never anticipated just how many female candidates there could be. Even 100 years ago, no one knew how many women were in office.

“We still come across articles from this timeframe that say, ‘Look! A woman elected to school board!’” Chmielewski says. “And it’s like, yeah, and there were three-dozen women before her, but you didn’t notice them.”


IT TOOK MORE THAN a century for someone to notice. For decades, the data on early candidates had been scattered in state archives, historical societies, hard-to-obtain newspapers, and statistical reports, and the sources only became nationally and globally accessible once they were scanned. 

As records have made their way online, Her Hat’s candidate count has grown, to more than 3,300 women in over 4,500 campaigns. A couple of years into the project, Chmielewski and Norgren brought on board a third researcher—Kristen Gwinn-Becker—to design and host their database and website, which provides biographical information, photos, and other resources. It’s searchable by a candidate’s name, state, office, or party—plus it can aggregate and combine data among all those categories.

Several modest grants have funded some Swarthmore interns, but Her Hat is mostly a passion project for Chmielewski, Norgren, and Gwinn-Becker, who run the site largely on their own time, their own dime.

Chmielewski has long been interested in women’s history: She has three degrees in the field. Among the hundreds of memorabilia items in Her Hat’s collection is a needlepoint she created in the ’70s that reads, “A Woman’s Place Is in the House—And in the Senate.” But Chmielewski emphasizes that it’s not her story that’s important; it’s those of the thousands of women who braved laughter, derision, outrage, and worse to throw their hats in the ring. Win or lose, each of them paved the way for Hillary Clinton’s historic run, often without much fanfare or recognition: “There are 3,000 biographies that could be written, and dozens of scholarly monographs,” Chmielewski notes.

So what would Belva Lockwood think of Clinton’s candidacy, 132 years after she first ran for president?

“She would have been so pleased to see a lawyer, and a woman who had been secretary of state, receiving the nomination,” Chmielewski says. “Belva believed in the efficacy of global communication, and she would’ve seen that as a real positive: someone who had an international outlook.

“But she’d think it had taken far too long. Why hadn’t a woman been nominated before this?” 


+ DELVE DEEPER at, and explore a gallery and women’s suffrage timeline at

A Tip of the Hat

Their Hats Were in the Ring, Too

1848 —Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several other Quaker women organize the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

1855 — Two women, Marietta Patrick and Lydia Hall, are elected to the school board of Ashfield, Mass.

1866 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton becomes the first woman to run for Congress.

1869 — Despite unsavory motives, Wyoming Territory grants women the right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and other conservative activists form the American Woman Suffrage Association.

1872 — Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women are arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election.

1890 — Wyoming is admitted to the Union, making it the first state to grant women full suffrage. 

1892 — Olympia Brown founds the Federal Suffrage Association.

1894 — Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances Klock become the first three women elected to a state legislature (Colorado).

1896 — Martha Hughes Cannon of Utah becomes the first female state senator.

1913 — Alice Paul, Class of 1905, and Lucy Burns create the Congressional Union, precursor to the National Women’s Party. They are later joined by Mabel Vernon, Class of 1906.

1914 — The National Federation of Women’s Clubs, consisting of more than 2 million U.S. women, formally endorses the suffrage campaign.

1915 — 40,000 march in a New York City women’s suffrage parade.

1916 — Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to Congress.

1918 — President Woodrow Wilson expresses his support for a federal women’s suffrage amendment.

1919 — The Senate passes the 19th Amendment and the ratification process begins.

Aug. 26, 1920 — The 19th Amendment is ratified, granting American women full voting rights.

1964 — Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine becomes the first Republican woman to run for president.  She does not receive her party’s nomination.

1965 — President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, ending election practices that had prevented many women of color from voting.

1972 — U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress, becomes the first African-American to run for president as the nominee of a major party (Democratic Party).

1984 — Geraldine Ferraro becomes the first Democratic female vice presidential nominee; 24 years later, Sarah Palin becomes the first on the Republican side.

2016 — Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee for president.