Major Milestones and Important Moments on the Debate Stage

Kamala Harris will be the third woman and the first woman of color to take to the US Vice Presidential debate main stage when she faces Mike Pence tomorrow in Utah. Here’s a quick overview of some major milestones and important moments that came before tomorrow night’s history-making debate:

  • Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for vice president in 1984, and though a woman wouldn’t be nominated for president until 2016, Ferraro’s breakthrough was an immediate game-changer. As we previously noted, during the 1984 Vice Presidential debate, when George Bush offered to help her understand the nuances of international diplomacy, Ferraro famously answered, “I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”
  • Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the second woman to be nominated following Ferraro, had some advice for Kamala Harris as she joined Palin in the small club of women chosen to run for vice president: “Trust no one new” and “Don’t get muzzled.” Palin, then running as John McCain’s running mate, faced Joe Biden—who was running with Barack Obama—in a vice presidential debate in 2008.
  • Shirley Chisholm is arguably best known as the first Black congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives, which she accomplished upon election for her New York district in 1968. But Chisholm also made history on the debate stage: she was the first woman to appear in a presidential debate in 1972 when she appeared on the Democratic presidential candidate stage (and Chisholm had to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission to be able to debate).
  • It isn’t just women candidates who have made history that we’ll see furthered tonight: Susan Page will be just the third woman to moderate a vice-presidential debate, succeeding Judy Woodruff in 1988 and Gwen Ifill in 2004 and 2008. Woodruff and Ifill also made history together as the first all-women debate team to manage a Democratic presidential debate when they moderated a meeting of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

As Amanda Hess pointed out, “The presence of a woman on the ticket is still an object of fascination,” and we are watching for the higher standards that we know women running for office face. We’re excited to reflect on this history, honor the trailblazers, and see what comes next for women in politics.

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