In The Highest Glass Ceiling, best-selling historian Ellen Fitzpatrick tells the story of three remarkable women who set their sights on the American presidency. Victoria Woodhull (1872), Margaret Chase Smith (1964), and Shirley Chisholm (1972) each challenged persistent barriers confronted by women presidential candidates. Their quest illuminates today’s political landscape, showing that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign belongs to a much longer, arduous, and dramatic journey.
The tale begins during Reconstruction when the radical Woodhull became the first woman to seek the presidency. Although women could not yet vote, Woodhull boldly staked her claim to the White House, believing she might thereby advance women’s equality. Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith came into political office through the “widow’s mandate.” Among the most admired women in public life when she launched her 1964 campaign, she soon confronted prejudice that she was too old (at 66) and too female to be a creditable presidential candidate. She nonetheless became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President by a major party. Democratic Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm ignored what some openly described as the twin disqualifications of race and gender in her spirited 1972 presidential campaign. She ran all the way to the Democratic convention, inspiring diverse followers and angering opponents, including members of the Nixon administration who sought to derail her candidacy.
As The Highest Glass Ceiling reveals, women’s pursuit of the Oval Office, then and now, has involved myriad forms of influence, opposition, and intrigue.
Fitzpatrick’s history is an urgent, crucial contribution… A book unlikely to calm any nerves, but which will at least put our gendered anxieties in historical perspective… Fitzpatrick’s smartly timed book should remind us not to let whatever history we make just pass us by.
Fitzpatrick tells the compelling stories of three women who preceded [Hillary] Clinton’s quest [to become president]… Fitzpatrick is a worthy biographer, offering a rich, amply footnoted story of these quick-witted and resilient women. In a world where women were expected to demur, they lived large—and paid the price. One finishes the book believing that they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Ellen Fitzpatrick breaks the second-highest glass ceiling: writing a history of political women that reads like a murder mystery while managing to elevate the office of president despite recent electoral buffoonery. It’s a neat trick that kept me turning pages to find out what happened next. Like the politicos whose audacity, gusto and brainpower she admires, Fitzpatrick is that entertaining… Those eager to curl up with a good read on a Saturday afternoon will find the hours passing quickly. They might also become eager to cheer for a female president—at last.
Fitzpatrick’s engaging The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency implicitly questions the assumption that any rational woman could seriously believe that the White House was hers for the asking, by telling the entertaining, if ultimately depressing, stories of some women in the past who have failed.
Why has it taken so long for a woman to be taken seriously when she runs for President of the United States? There are stories to be told about that and Presidential historian Ellen Fitzpatrick does so superbly in The Highest Glass Ceiling. Her account of the women who did, in fact, go for the top job makes for great reading as well as a much-needed filling of important gaps in American political history. This is a terrific book that is chock full of small tidbits that add up to important surprises for anyone who thinks they already know everything about presidential politics.
Ellen Fitzpatrick’s wise and winning The Highest Glass Ceiling is destined to become the Profiles in Courage of the 2016 Presidential election, situating this year’s presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in a historic field of bold female contenders, with special focus on the three who previously came closest—Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith, and Shirley Chisholm. What enabled these women to ‘step out of context and into history,’ as a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote of Smith, to ‘shake it up, make it change,’ as Chisholm aimed to do? Fitzpatrick’s compelling portraits supply not just the how and when, but also the why, teaching valuable lessons that everyone who cares about American Presidential politics will be grateful to learn.
Women’s quest for the U.S. presidency has been long and arduous—and Ellen Fitzpatrick, a superb scholar and writer, is the perfect author for this fascinating and overdue history. This book is a triumph, and an inspiration.
Fitzpatrick offers a rich story of quick-witted and resilient women who preceded Hillary Clinton’s quest.
[A] richly textured history of women’s pursuit of the presidency…Fitzpatrick has done a tremendous job of relaying this fascinating history.
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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