Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris may have made history in November 2020 by becoming the first woman to earn that title, but she isn’t the first woman to try. There have been only a few women on major party tickets as vice president, including Geraldine Ferraro, who was the Democratic nominee alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. Ferraro was the first woman to have a major party backing her campaign as vice president, but ultimately, Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan, with George H.W. Bush as Reagan’s vice president.
Ferraro was a born-and-raised New Yorker. She graduated from Marymount College in Manhattan, the first in her family to earn a college degree. From there, she earned her teaching license, according to The New York Times, before studying at Fordham Law School. She was one of just two women in a class of 179 and earned her law degree in 1960, passing the New York bar soon after. She split her time during her early career days between work and growing her family with husband John Zaccaro. Together they had three kids: Donna, John, and Laura.
Ferraro was elected president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association and then took up a post as an assistant district attorney. However, a passing comment from soon-to-be New York Gov. Mario Cuomo encouraged her to think about politics.
Geraldine Ferraro held her own against George H.W. Bush
Geraldine Ferraro ran for Congress in 1978. She won New York’s 9th Congressional District in Queens and served three terms in the House of Representatives, according to The New York Times, before becoming secretary of the Democratic caucus and chairwoman of the Democratic Platform Committee. In July 1984, Walter Mondale called and asked her to join his presidential campaign as his vice president.
One of the most memorable pieces of their campaign trail was the night Ferraro took on Republican vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush in a debate. The Washington Post recalls the night, likening it to Sen. Kamala Harris’ debate with Vice President Mike Pence in 2020. In the 1984 debate, Bush not only refused to call Ferraro by her correct title — calling her Mrs. Ferraro rather than Congresswoman Ferraro — but he also mansplained everything to her. The Washington Post writes, “As Bush lectured, Ferraro took notes. Then she was asked for her rebuttal. Calmly, with a slight smile, she fixed her gaze on Bush and began.” Rather than belittle him in return, she debated intelligently and with grace.
Mondale and Ferraro obviously didn’t win the election. Ferraro stayed in politics for a bit but ultimately took on other roles, including a job on CNN and another with the United Nations. In 1998, she found out she had multiple myeloma, which is eventually what she died from in 2011.
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