Shirley St. Hill Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to the US Con¬ gress and the first African- American to launch a campaign for a major party presidential nomination. She was bom in Brooklyn, where she stayed until the age ofthree. Sent to her maternal grandmother in Barba¬ dos, Chisholm lived away from her parents until they could afford her education.
In 1934 she returned to New York, grad¬ uating cum laude from Brook¬ lyn College in 1946. She attend¬ ed Columbia University for graduate work in elementary education and worked as a teacher before joining the New York City Bureau of Child Wel¬ fare, and molding the Unity Democratic Club into an orga¬ nized body for the support of district reforms.
Launching a political career in 1964, when she was elected the first African-American assemblywoman from Brooklyn, Chisholm proved herself a pow¬ erful supporter of women and African- Americans. She was reelected in 1965 and 1966, and launched her campaign for a con¬ gressional seat from the 12th district in 1968. Her election made her the first African-American woman in Congress, and her reputation as a maverick who crossed party lines made her an excellent politician dedicated to the goals of equality.
In 1972, Chisholm used her excellent record to buoy her campaign for the Demo¬ cratic Party’s candidacy for the US presiden¬ cy. She was the first African-American to make a serious attempt at the presidency and her courage would inspire other African- American leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson(see no. 99) to go further toward the nation’s most influential political position.
Though Chisholm lost the nomination to George McGovern, she retained her position in Congress, reelected to her seat six times before her retirement in 1982. In the same year, she began teaching at Mount Holyoke College. In 1984 she founded the National Political Congress of Black Women, dedi¬ cated, as Chisholm has always been, to the elimination of racism and sexism in America and in American politics.
The NPCBW sent a delegation of 100 American women to the Democratic Con¬ vention in 1988 to remind the nation’s politi¬ cians that civil rights issues needed constant attention. Her respected career made her President Bill Clinton’s choice for United States ambassador to Jamaica in 1993.