Tonight will make it official. One particularly high and resilient glass ceiling will be shattered when delegates at the Democratic Convention officially nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the party’s presidential nominee. Too bad that Geraldine Ferraro did not live to see this day. Thirty-two years earlier on July 19, 1984, she became the first woman to claim a spot at the top of the Democratic ticket as the Vice Presidential nominee. I was there to see it happen.
I was working as a freelance journalist in San Francisco. By 1984 the political and medical challenges of AIDS demanded most of my writing time, but the chance to be on the convention floor was something I couldn’t resist. I’d like to write that I was on assignment, but instead a colleague needed someone to schlep his bulky, heavy videocam equipment. My writing partner at the time, Rick Osmon, and I agreed.
We had played out scenarios – like many Americans at the time – about which woman might be selected during the extended VP vetting routine. Presidential nominee Walter “Fritz” Mondale interviewed a clutch of mayors, senators, and governors. San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein was prominent enough among the finalists to share a TIME magazine cover with New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill encouraged Mondale to select Ferraro, a three-term member of Congress representing Queens.
On July 19 Rick Osmon and I maneuvered through the exuberant delegates packing the Moscone Center. New York Governor Mario Cuomo fired up the crowd, similar to Senator Cory Booker’s rousing address last night. Other observers have described a “sea of women on the convention floor.” Several women we talked with said male delegates had yielded their floor passes so women colleagues could witness the historic moment when for the first time a woman joined a national ticket.
I am so grateful for sharing in that rush of emotion on the convention floor in 1984, and tonight to see delegates place a woman at the very top of the ticket.
Note: Check this February 15, 2015 exclusive feature in Salon by reporter Phil Hirschkorn about the behind-the-scene politics around the selection of Geraldine Ferraro and the nomination of Walter Mondale.