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Women’s History Wednesday: Shirley Chisholm, Remarkable Lady March 16, 2011

Posted by thesporkgirl in Women Who Rock, Women's History Wednesday.
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So when Syd started this wonderful little blog, I asked myself what I could contribute. Because you guys really, I am pretty dumb. I don’t know a lot. I don’t know statistics, I haven’t researched personal stories.

I constantly find myself coming across stories or information, usually just as an aside, in an “and of course everyone knows about [thing Spork has never heard of before right now],” kind of way. So I bet a lot of this will be familiar to a lot of folks but maybe they’ll be one or two people for whom this is new information, and if you already knew it well a little reminder isn’t so bad, is it? Because I will pick awesome ladies to profile, ones who showed us just what a lady can do if she sets her mind to it.

So first up: Shirley Chisholm, one of the most remarkable ladies ever!


She was a groundbreaker, a door-opened, a trailblazer. And she did it all with savvy, class, style, and kindness. Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress. She made Nixon real mad. She ran for President, and three motherfuckers tried to kill her – mind you, before even the primary. So she wasn’t even a candidate yet. She was just running for the Democratic nomination, and there were three attempts on her life before stupid George McGovern won the primaries anyways (and then that idiot threw it all away because he didn’t vet his running mate, giving the country to Nixon in a landslide until he also threw it all away and resigned). She outlasted both those idiots, serving in the House of Representative until 1983.

Oh right, she made Nixon mad (always a good thing) by daring to care about things that mattered to the people who elected her, like not-agriculture (she broke from tradition and asked to be reassigned from the “House Agriculture Committee” when she was just in her first year in Congress where they expect you to shut up and not make waves), but yes to increased education spending.

In 1971, she wrote a bill proposing federal funds to childcare services. It passed the House and the Senate. When Nixon vetoed it, he said it would lead to the “Sovietization of American children.” So, you can see that the playbook the GOP is still reading from, the one where they say to accuse people who want to help out working folks of being dirty soviet commies, hasn’t been updated since at least 1971. Because going to federally funding child care while your parents work, would definitely make U.S. American children grow up to be commies. Right? Orrrr… rich white men don’t care if poor folks have anyone to watch their children while they work. Whichever.

Other bills she wrote included one for domestic workers to become eligible for minimum wage, one for assistance for poor student to obtain higher education, and she worked to reverse a law that allowed female New York state teachers to lose tenure if they dared to take maternity leave.

She was a tough lady. But a fair lady. She hired almost only women to work for her, and pushed them as hard as she pushed herself. Not to say she didn’t have kindness in her. In 1972, when George Wallace (her ideological near-opposite, he was the huge asshole who said “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” like for serious, though) was recovering from an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed, she visited him in the hospital.

People were outraged, but she said it she wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It was also a shrewd political move, because when she was pushing the bill to have domestic workers eligible for minimum wage (before that, it could essentially be indentured servitude), his support gave her the margin to have that bill passed.

After 14 years in Congress, Shirley Chisholm retired from political office. She went back to education, teaching politics and women’s studies at Mount Holyoke. She spent her retirement years down in Florida, occasionally campaigning for candidates she believed in, until her death on January 1, 2005 at the age of 80.

So basically what I’m saying is, there was this gorgeous, brilliant, stylish, savvy, brave tough lady, and there needs to be a biopic about here ASAP. I think they’ve been kicking one around for a few years, but it needs to get done. There is a wonderful documentary, linked below, but docs have limited reach. Get Halle into this biopic and Shirley Chisholm will be a household name, like she needs to be.

Documentary: Chisholm ’72 – Unbought & Unbossed

Books: Autobiography (reissue/updated) Unbought and Unbossed, by Shirley Chisholm

Music/fun stuff:  Shirley Chisholm in Popular Culture (Wikipedia)

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