Toni Walker never thought the United States would elect a woman president. Never.
Now, as Hillary Clinton will officially accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday, Walker is among those in the convention ecstatic to see the first woman ever to get this far and to send her into the fall campaign, perhaps to the White House.
“You’re asking me, a 69-year-old woman, how it feels? Well, I’m telling you it feels mighty damn good,” said Walker, a Pinellas County, Florida, resident and retired special-education teacher wearing a mini pantsuit-clad Clinton pinned to her shirt. She was attending her first convention, all to see and feel the moment.
“I think it should have happened with President No. 2,” said Sondra Milkie, 27, of Madison, Wisconsin, who recruits people to run for office. “I don’t really understand how in a country like this we could have gone this long without a lady president, but I also know society and I know change is slow.”
A few miles from the site where the Founding Fathers established the nation 240 years ago this month, delegates waved printed red signs that proclaimed “HISTORY” while more than one clutched handmade posters that read “Madame President.”
I think this is only the beginning. There are more phenomenal women being groomed. We will have more female nominees and female presidents. We see the tides turn within politics and the world.
Jessica Bright, 45, of Charleston, S.C.
In interviews, more than a dozen female delegates from across the country reflected on what a moment in history some never thought they would see means to them. They celebrated by crying, dancing and shouting.
Natasha Mahapatrl, 23, communications manager for Mobile Future in Washington, D.C., said she ran to the floor for the nomination to take videos of herself screaming and yelling.
“I just feel like . . . having someone as amazing as her break the glass ceiling, it’s for all of us, all of us women,” she said. “Not just in America, but all over the world. So it was really exciting to see and I just feel like my dreams . . . just feel so much more real.”
Many delegates spoke about how girls growing up today – including their own children and grandchildren – will know for the first time that a woman at the very least can compete for the most important job in the most powerful country.
“Every single girl . . . from this day forward who’s born in this country knows that when she looks at a list of presidential candidates she’s going to see someone that is a girl, and that she doesn’t have to listen to her parents say, ‘Sorry, honey, you can’t be president. Only boys are president,’ ” said Kristie O’Brien, 41, an attorney from Phoenix, Arizona. “Whatever she dreams of she can try to achieve.”
Emma Norrell, 14, of Lancaster, South Carolina, who joined her mother, state Rep. Mandy Powers, on the convention floor as Clinton was nominated, said she had thought that a woman would become a major party nominee in her lifetime but didn’t think it would be this soon.
“I think it’s really cool because it’s been so long and there hasn’t been a female president yet,” said Emma, who said she or her mother might be inspired by Clinton’s example to run for president in the future.
It says to young women, especially, that there’s never not a time, and that it may take time but don’t give up. And that is an important message for young women, especially now, because it’s a harder struggle. So for young women, they have to know that it might be hard but they have to keep pushing forward and they can do it.
Gloria Hatcher-Mays, 59, of Seattle
The first woman ran for president in 1872, before women even had the right to vote. Since then, dozens have run but until Clinton none have gotten far.
Clinton in 2008 became the first female candidate to vie seriously for the White House.
“I think for the country it means we’re moving forward,” said C. Denise Marcelle, 55, a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives who is running to be the first female mayor of Baton Rouge. “We’re becoming a more progressive country and a more inclusive country. . . . I’m glad I’m alive. I’m glad I’m a delegate. I’m glad I got to vote. I’m really excited about this.”
Americans have slowly accepted the idea of a female president, according to Gallup. In 1937, only 1 in 3 said they would vote for a qualified woman. By 2015, that had expanded to more than 9 in 10.
Her journey is representative of what we have to do as women, which is be assertive but not aggressive, be very strong, and your convictions and what you have to say and command and demand men if you absolutely have to, because it does pay off.
Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg, Va.
“It’s almost not even an issue of this point.” said Veronica Noland, 50, an administrative assistant and school board member from Elgin, Illinois. “To me it’s almost natural. I almost forget that that’s going to be new.”
When she ran in 2008, Clinton avoided talking about her experiences as a woman, repeatedly saying she was running because she was the best-qualified candidate. This time, she shares 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.
“I think it’s gonna change the mentality of women,” said Paulette Palmer, of Greenwood, Mississippi. “That they’re going to be stronger now and not shy about speaking out. Because we’re important. We have our place and we can stand on our own two feet.”
Jee-Eun Lee, Steven Porter and Danielle Prieur contributed to this article.