Estelle Liebow Schultz, who is 98, was born before her fellow countrywomen had the right to vote. Now she has proudly cast a ballot for the candidate she hopes will make history as the first American woman elected president.
Hillary Clinton hopes to become that woman on Tuesday, breaking the ultimate glass ceiling after having become, at the Democratic nominating convention in July, the first female candidate for a major party.
Schultz was born in June 1918, two years before American women gained the vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. “To see such an accomplishment in my lifetime is momentous,” said the retired teacher, who lives in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Maryland.
Having cast an early vote—as several states permit—she hopes to see the inauguration in January of the first woman president, following the succession of 44 men that began with George Washington in 1789.
It has been a long road, starting with the presidential campaign in 1872 of Victoria Woodhull—who at 34 was technically a year too young to become president—as candidate of the Equal Rights Party. History books list the vote totals won by her male rivals, but not hers.
Britain, Germany, Croatia, Norway, Chili and South Korea have women leaders; Israel, Brazil, Argentina and Pakistan have been led by women.
“We are very late compared to many other countries around the world,” said Jeanne Zaino, a political scientist at Iona College in New York.
Only two women have made it onto major party presidential tickets: the Republican Sarah Palin, who was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, and Geraldine Ferraro, who joined Walter Mondale on the Democratic ticket in 1984. Both lost.
Some women failed to survive the brutal primary election process, chewed up by the big parties’ political machines. Others became historical footnotes in the quixotic campaigns of splinter parties. “When you don’t support women in a structural way, you have fewer women who can rise to the top, in politics and other arenas,” Zaino said.
Parliamentary or multi-party systems are more favorable to women, pushing parties to establish diverse lists of candidates, which helps women climb within a party to top leadership positions, said Robert Shapiro, a political scientist with Columbia University in New York.
Candidate Clinton has sometimes presented herself as a mother or a grandmother, but the 69-year-old has used the “woman card” sparingly, intent on being judged first for her competence and experience.
At the same time, her Republican opponent Donald Trump has not hesitated to draw on stereotypes of women, describing the former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state as weak and lacking stamina. Whether out of misogyny, partisan hatred or some combination of the two, supporters of the Republican regularly break into chants of “Lock her up” whenever Trump describes her as corrupt.
“Hillary Clinton is consistently treated differently than just about any other candidate I see out there,” President Barack Obama said recently during a rally in Columbus, Ohio. Addressing himself to men in the audience, he asked them to “kind of look inside yourself and ask yourself if you’re having problems” with Clinton’s candidacy because she is a woman. “How much of it is that we’re just not used to it?” he asked.
“I’m proud to be a woman running for president,” Clinton recently told a New York radio host. “I’d be just incredibly humbled and honored to be the first woman president… But I have a lot of work I want to do. And I hope that people will say, ‘Hey, she’s getting it done.’”
The idea of electing the nation’s first woman president has generated less excitement than the election eight years ago of Obama as the first African American president. Roughly half of Americans in a recent survey said they would have preferred that history be made by someone other than Clinton, whose popularity ratings are low.
But if she is elected, “there will be many tearful faces,” Shapiro predicted.
“Before I die, by God, I want to have a woman president. Yes, it’s very important,” 64-year-old lawyer Moira Hahn told AFP. It would be “wonderful,” said Nancy Murphy, 58, a retired teacher, while worrying aloud: “I don’t know how a lot of the nation will feel about that.”
If elected, Clinton hopes to celebrate in New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center—a glass-enclosed building on the banks of the Hudson River. It would be a sly wink to the “glass ceiling” she would be breaking on that momentous day.