Iconic Women

Shirley Chisholm, the First Black Woman to Be Elected Into US Congress

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Feb 9, 2024

Shirley Chisholm is the first black woman to be elected to US Congress

 

As black history Month begins we bring you the story of one of the trailblazers in black history in America, the first black woman to be voted into US Congress, Shirley Chisholm.

 

Encyclopedia Britannica’s biography of Shirley St. Hill or Shirley Chisholm States that she was born to immigrants from Guyana and Barbados. Shirley St. Hill's father was from Guyana and her mother from Barbados. She lived in Barbados and later Brooklyn, New York.

She graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts 1946. While teaching nursery school and serving as director of the Friends Day Nursery in Brooklyn, she obtained a Master’s degree in elementary education at Columbia University

 

While at Columbia University she married Conrad Q. Chisholm and education consultant for New York City's Day-care division, she was very socially conscious and was active with community and political groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and her district’s Unity Democratic Club. 

 

According to a profile on Shirley in the Women's history website In 1964, Chisholm ran for a position in the New York Parliament and became the second African American in the New York State Legislature. After court-ordered redistricting created a new, heavily Democratic, district in her neighborhood, in 1968 Chisholm sought and won a seat in Congress. There a movement named, “Fighting Shirley” introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation and championed racial and gender equality, the plight of the poor, and ending the Vietnam War. She was a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971, and in 1977 became the first Black woman and second woman ever to serve on the powerful House Rules Committee. That year she married Arthur Hardwick Jr., a New York State legislator.

Shirley Chisholm was met with discrimination on her quest for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. She was not allowed to participate in televised primary debates, and after taking legal action, was permitted to make just one speech. Still, students, women, and minorities followed the “Chisholm Trail.” She entered 12 primaries and garnered 152 of the delegates’ votes even though her campaign did not have enough funding and there was controversy from the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus.

She taught at Mount Holyoke College and co-founded the National Political Congress of Black Women after her retirement from Congress in 1983. In 1991 she moved to Florida and later declined the nomination to become U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica due to ill health. Of her legacy, Chisholm said, “I want to be remembered as a woman … who dared to be a catalyst of change