First African American Female In Congress, Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was one of the most well-known social activists of the 20th century. Chisholm served on the New York State Assembly, became the first black female U.S. congressional representative and the first black female to run for President of the U.S., continually living up to her campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.”
Shirley Chisholm Early Social Activism
Born Shirley St. Hill, Chisholm, she won several scholarships to prestigious colleges. However, Notable Biographies, she could not afford the costs of room and board so she attended Brooklyn College so that she could live at home.
Shirley became active in community groups and campus organizations. National Women’s History Museum, she started groups of her own after some campus organizations denied admittance to black students. She also became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her campus involvement paved the way for Chisholm to become a champion of women’s rights, a voice for black Americans and a voice for political, economic and social change.
Professional and Political Career
Shirley Chisholm graduated from Brooklyn College with honors and started teaching nursery school. After receiving her master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University she became a child care center director. Chisholm served as an educational consultant for the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964.
The United States House of Representatives History Art & Archives explains how Shirley Chisholm campaigned to win her seat as the first black woman to serve as U.S. congressional representative, borrowing quotes from Susan Brownmiller’s “This is Fighting Shirley Chisholm.” Chisholm rode through neighborhoods in a sound truck, parked outside housing projects, proclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Fighting Shirley Chisholm coming through!” She continued, “I have a way of talking that does something to people.”
In Congress, Shirley Chisholm refused to sit back quietly after she was denied a seat on every single committee she requested to serve on. Upon complaining directly to House Speaker John McCormack, he told her to be a “good soldier.” Yet, Chisholm vowed to fight for issues of concern to her constituents.
Chisholm’s Work In Congress
Shirley served seven terms in Congress. She spoke out against the Vietnam War. Shirley Chisholm finally gained acceptance in Congress, gaining support for the expansion and passing of bills related to creating programs and expanding federal funding for education. Chisholm was a “primary backer” of the school lunch program and led her colleagues to override President Ford’s veto of the national school lunch bill.
Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Women’s Caucus. In addition to her outspoken activism, Shirley became the first black woman to run for U.S. President. However, many people saw her 1972 presidential bid as simply a symbolic gesture.
Her Final Years
Chisholm lost interest in Congress, allegedly with the election of Ronald Reagan. After leaving Congress, she taught college and traveled the lecture circuit.
Shirley Chisholm died January 1, 1985. Asked how she wanted people to remember her, Chisholm once replied, “I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be a catalyst for change…”