I often share the following anecdote when describing my feminist origin story. As a child fascinated by the 1988 presidential election, I determined that I wanted to be president when I grew up. When I shared this ambition with an adult friend of the family, however, his response was blunt: "Well, you can't be the president," he told me, "but you can be the first lady."
At the time, no evidence existed to disprove his assertion. Four years earlier, Geraldine Ferraro had become the first woman to appear on a major party's presidential ticket when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate. Sitting vice president George H. W. Bush appeared unsure of how to treat his opponent when the two appeared on the debate stage together in Philadelphia in October 1984. "Let me help you, Mrs. Ferraro," he offered at one point, assuming that he needed to educate her about foreign policy—and depriving the congresswoman of her proper honorific in the process.1 The Mondale-Ferraro ticket went on to lose a historically lopsided election the next month, and in the thirty years since, only three women have matched Ferraro's accomplishment. [End Page 243]
Like everything else in 2020, production of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography was affected by Covid-19. As I write, it is November 12, nearly a month after this issue should have appeared. However, this delay has one upside: I can now say that Americans have for the first time elected a woman—and a woman of color—to serve as vice president. "While I may be the first woman in this office," Kamala Harris said in her victory speech on November 7, "I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."2 Certainly her candidacy provoked sexist and racist attacks, especially from the sitting president, but her victory ensures that American children will hear very different messages from those my generation received.
As for me, editing now seems a much more appropriate career path than does public office. This issue appears during the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, which made it illegal to deny individuals the right to vote based on sex, but it is not primarily about women's relationship to electoral politics. This focus is by design, as the formal political realm has historically been a rarefied one. Instead, the articles collected here—as curated by the thoughtful eyes of guest editors Emma Jones Lapsansky and Marion Roydhouse—delve into such topics as women in religious communities, the tensions and possibilities in Black women's cross-class relationships, how the personal complicated the political in radical abolitionism, and the gendered economics of temperance literature. Political women have worked through multiple avenues, not just institutions of state power, to effect change in their lives.
The ongoing pandemic means that we at HSP cannot encourage you to use our many fine collections documenting women's relationship to politics in person. However, those of you who study or teach this subject will find many useful resources, including portions of several HSP collections, available through the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) In Her Own Right project, a five-year effort to digitize materials related to women's activism in the century leading up to the Nineteenth Amendment (inherownright.org). We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy, and we look forward to welcoming you back into the building as soon as possible. [End Page 244]
1. George H. W. Bush quoted in Gillian Brockell, "'Let Me Help You, Mrs. Ferraro': The First Time a VP Debated a Woman, It Did Not Go Well," Washington Post, Oct. 7, 2020.
2. "Read the Transcript of Kamala Harris's Victory Speech in Wilmington, Del.," Washington Post, Nov. 7, 2020.