No matter your preference of candidate, party or ideology, Tuesday marked a defining moment in the United States.
For the first time in 240 years, a woman – Hillary Clinton – locked up a major party’s nomination for president, and is now within shot of winning the White House itself in November.
“I think we’re close to that moment where we are finally going to break that glass ceiling,” said former Vice President Walter Mondale, who as presidential nominee in 1984 selected the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. “We should rejoice in that. It changes our society.”
Late Tuesday, a jubilant Clinton declared herself the Democratic nominee at a packed victory party in Brooklyn. “Thanks to you, we have reached a milestone, the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee,” she said to thunderous applause.
Girls growing up today will see that a woman at the very least can be competitive when it comes the most important job in the most powerful country. Yet that change, which comes eight years to the day after Barack Obama broke another barrier by becoming the first African American to clinch a nomination, has come slowly.
It took more than two decades after Mondale selected the late Geraldine Ferraro for a second woman to appear on a major national ticket when John McCain tapped Republican Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
We need to have women...to lay the groundwork. You have to have a pipeline of women in position to run for president of the United States
Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List, which helps elects Democratic women who support abortion rights
A handful of other women have run for president, but it wasn’t 2008 that Clinton became the first female candidate to vie seriously for the White House. In 2012, Rep. Michele Bachmann ran for the Republican nomination, but fell far short. This year, businesswoman Carly Fiorina did the same but gained little traction in a crowded Republican field.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who became the first female speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007 and remains the highest-ranking woman ever in the U.S. government, said that as she sat behind former President George W. Bush for his final State of the Union address in 2008, she assumed that she would be sitting behind the first female president – Clinton – the next year.
“I always thought we would have a woman president sooner,” Pelosi said in an interview Tuesday. “The American people have been ready for that awhile.”
Americans have gradually come to accept the concept of a female president, according to Gallup, which has polled on the issue since 1937 when only one in three said they would vote for a qualified woman. In 2015, it had expanded to more than nine in 10.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has represented California since 1992, noted that when she was first elected to the Senate, there were just two female senators. Today there are 20. She said Tuesday’s result is “a historic milestone that deserves to be celebrated.”
“As the number of women holding office increased, it was inevitable that the public would recognize that we could also ascend to higher office,” she said.
For those who have pushed for greater leadership positions for women for decades, a female presidential nominee has come late, especially when compared to other countries. Many had began to wonder whether they’d see a female nominee or president in their lifetimes.
“No doubt we’re behind,” said Barbara Kennelly, a former House member from Connecticut who says the highest point in her political life was being selected to nominate Ferraro for vice president at the Democratic convention. She recalls that women packed the floor to witness the nomination. Kennelly said this year feels different, though, because the polls show Clinton, unlike Mondale, has a strong chance to win. “We’ve really progressed quite rapidly, but this has been a little difficult.”
Isabel Peron of Argentina became the first female president of any country in 1974. There are now 11 female presidents and seven female prime ministers in the world, according to the Worldwide Guide to Women Leaders.
“Oh my goodness, we are really late to the party,” said former Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, who explored running for president in 1988. “People are aware that most of the world has already done it.”
The first woman ran for president in the United States in 1872, well before women even had the right to vote. Since then, dozens have run but until Clinton, none have gotten far.
Clinton, who had amassed more than 13 million votes going into Tuesday’s contests, secured enough delegates late Monday to win the Democratic nomination against her last remaining rival, Bernie Sanders, according to the Associated Press.
Hillary is a trailblazer. She will break that glass ceiling once and for all. She will make history and change history
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in U.S. history
Clinton had played down the announcement and urged voters in six states – California, New Jersey, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota – to go to the polls Tuesday.
But after she won the New Jersey primary, she emailed supporters about her record-setting win and changed her Twitter avatar to state: “History Made.”
Sanders won the North Dakota caucuses, but Clinton still expected to finish Tuesday with a majority of the votes, of the pledged delegates and of delegates overall, according to the campaign. An aide estimated that her lead before Tuesday’s contests was nearly three times larger than Obama’s pledged delegate lead of 106 when he clinched the nomination in 2008. Sanders aides insisted that superdelegates could still change their minds and steer the nomination to him.
When she ran the first time, Clinton avoided talking about her experiences as a woman, repeatedly saying that she was running because she was the best-qualified candidate.
This time, Clinton has shared more personal anecdotes about being a working mother and a grandmother and focused on issues that might appeal to female voters including equal pay, paid family leave, affordable child care and access to health care. Her soon-to-be Republican rival rival, Donald Trump, has suggested Clinton is playing “the women’s card” in the race. “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get five percent of the vote,” he said.
Pelosi said that she knows that some people still oppose the idea of women and minorities taking on leadership roles. “I don’t want to say everything is different now,” she said. “There are still some vestiges of the old way of thinking.”
“I’m certainly very aware of how historically significant this is,” Clinton said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune in April. “I’m not asking anyone to vote for me just because I am a woman, but I do think being a woman is a real asset. I think I bring to my political and public work an awareness of what it’s like to be a daughter and a wife and a mother and now a grandmother, and how we can support families that are facing so many tough choices.”
The march to equality is slow. Each woman who steps up to run is a role model for women who come behind them
Barbara Lee, who founded a foundation, which produces nonpartisan research on women in politics
Clinton’s accomplishment likely will serve to inspire girls as Obama’s did for African Americans. An oft-quoted line from Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, sums up the moment: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Mondale said that he has been surprised about the number of women from all walks of life – from Sen. Amy Klobuchar to his minister – who have told him that his decision to select Ferraro changed their thinking, and their lives.
“The images children see matter,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “It changes the imagination. Girls could grow up believing they could be president of the United States. It changes that whole narrative.”