Yesterday & Today
Taking Her Place
Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated for vice president on a major-party ticket, used her political prowess to advocate for women's equality. In 1998, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
By Sharlene George
Geraldine A. Ferraro recalled in a memoir the “cosmic” force she felt as she walked into the Moscone Center in San Francisco on July 19, 1984, to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president—the first woman selected for the office by a major political party.
“By choosing a woman to run for our nation’s second highest office, you send a powerful signal to all Americans,” Ferraro said in her acceptance speech that night. A sea of delegates, some in tears, waved flags and stomped their feet for the nominee. “There are no doors we cannot unlock,” she added. “We will place no limit on achievement. If we can do this, we can do anything.”
Ferraro’s “cosmic” moment running with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale would be the high point in what turned out to be a losing campaign against incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. Mondale and Ferraro gained electoral votes only from Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. But Ferraro’s quick wit and down-to-earth style resonated with many Americans.
The candidate held her ground on numerous occasions when she was patronized as a female politician. During a campaign stop at a Mississippi farm, the state’s agricultural commissioner asked, “Can you bake a blueberry muffin?”
“Sure can,” Ferraro shot back. “Can you?”
Long after the cheers and political fervor subsided, Ferraro combined her political savvy and genuine concern for others to advance research on multiple myeloma, a blood cancer she was diagnosed with in 1998 and kept private until 2001, when she shared her personal story to help get legislation passed to increase federal research funding.
‘Taking a Man’s Place’
Born on Aug. 26, 1935, in Newburgh, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City, Ferraro was the daughter of Antonetta Corrieri, a skilled beadworker, and Dominick Ferraro, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant and a five-and-dime store.
Ferraro was the couple’s fourth child and only daughter. Her mother regularly supported the little girl, for example, when she wanted to dress as Uncle Sam instead of Miss America for Halloween. “It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a boy or a girl,” Ferraro recalled her mother saying. “You can be whatever you want.”