Women Running for President in the General Election

The news that U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton is leading for the Democratic presidential nomination has brought a spate of news stories about women candidates for president in the past. Many of these stories erroneously say that Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1872, and that Belva Ann Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888. These stories are not true. Neither woman organized any slates of candidates for presidential elector, pledged to vote for her. Therefore, it was literally impossible for anyone, even those two women themselves, to cast a vote for them for president (of course, back then no state permitted women to vote in any event, but they were still permitted to run for federal office). The National Archives contain the certificates of how many votes were received by each slate of presidential elector candidates, in all presidential elections since 1789. Researchers who have gone through these archives have never found any slates of electors pledged to Woodhull or Lockwood, nor has any state’s official election returns mentioned any such votes.

The first woman who ran for president in the general election and received any valid votes was Charlene Mitchell, presidential nominee of the Communist Party, in 1968. She was only on the ballot in two states and only received 1,075 votes.

The only three women who ever ran for president in the general election and received as much as 70,000 votes are Lenora Fulani of the New Alliance Party (who did it in 1988 and 1992), Linda Jenness of the Socialist Workers Party in 1972, and Sonia Johnson of the Citizens Party in 1984.


Women Running for President in the General Election — No Comments

  1. The Libertarian Party thinks that the first women to recieve an electoral vote was Tonie Nathan. She ran as a Vice Presidental candidate in 1972.
    Link http://www.lp.org/organization/history.shtml#1970s

    First national convention held in June in Denver, Colorado. John Hospers, a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California, is nominated as presidential candidate. LP vice presidential candidate Tonie Nathan becomes the first woman in U.S. history to receive an electoral vote.

    I guess she is not on your list because she ran for Vice President.

  2. In 1976, Margaret Wright (an African American) was the presidential nominee of the Peoples Party/Peace and Freedom Party. Dr. Benjamin Spock was her vice-presidential running mate.

  3. As webmaster of Victoria Woodhull & Company, I disagree with the assertion that neither Victoria Woodhull nor Belva Lockwood ran for President because no presidential electors pledged their votes for them. Running for President and receiving electoral votes are two different things. If they aren’t, then Ralph Nader didn’t run for President in 2000 or 2004, because he received no electoral votes.

    Just because official election returns don’t show votes for Woodhull doesn’t mean no one voted for her. While I don’t dispute the accuracy of the 1872 electoral votes, I seriously question the accuracy of the popular vote. I have a copy of an 1894 article about a politician who publicly admitted to voting for Victoria Woodhull in 1872. He said, “I was disgusted with the democrats for indorsing [sic] Greeley. I could not vote for him and I could not vote for Grant. At last I made up my mind to vote for Victoria Woodhull and I did it.” His vote appears to have not been counted; and, in 1896, when he was a gubernatorial candidate, he made “a free ballot and a fair count” part of his campaign.

    Because Victoria Woodhull was 34-years-old when she ran for President the first time, some have discounted her run for the Presidency in favor of Lockwood. While some historians dispute the legitimacy of Woodhull’s run, they generally do not dispute that she ran. A 1924 article from the Washington Post says “in 1872 Mrs. Woodhull…conducted a vigorous personal campaign, and had ballots bearing her name distributed at the polling places. But the votes which were cast for her, if any, were not counted or reckoned in the election returns.”

    This site is supposed to be about ballot access. Woodhull and Lockwood demanded access to the ballot, but were denied it, and you use that to prove they didn’t “run.” Instead of attempting to discredit their brave campaigns, you should use these women as examples of what happens when ballot access prevents half the population from aspiring to the Presidency.

  4. In the 19th century, all ballots were privately prepared. The government had nothing to do with ballots. Therefore, if anyone wanted to run for president, that person had to find candidates for presidential elector who pledged to vote for that presidential candidate. Then the presidential candidate had to print up such ballots, containing lists of presidential elector candidates. Then the presidential candidate, or his or her campaign organization, had to distribute these ballots. Neither Woodhull nor Lockwood lined up any candidates for presidential elector. A ballot bearing the names of just Woodhull or Lockwood, without candidates for presidential elector, would not have been valid. The voters do not choose the president in the United States; the voters choose presidential electors. Votes cast for presidential candidates who have not lined up a slate of electors are not valid and never have been in any state. The Constitution, Article II, mandates that this is the case.

  5. How do you know that neither Woodhull nor Lockwood tried to line up presidential electors? I haven’t seen anything that says they did or didn’t try. It may be that they tried and couldn’t get any. That wouldn’t be surprising. How many presidential electors would’ve agreed to cast their votes for a female president in the nineteenth century? The failure to line up electors doesn’t mean that they failed to run. It means when they ran they failed.

    Let’s look at the facts. Woodhull was dissatisfied with both the Republican and Democratic parties. She organized a political convention in order to create a third party whose platform was “to mete out equal and exact justice to all, of whatever nativity, race, color, sex or persuasion, religious or political.” She was nominated at convention. She accepted, and her nomination was ratified at convention.

    She then set about the task of organization and fund raising. There were “Victoria Leagues,” clubs that had the task of promoting her candidacy. She issued bonds to finance the campaign. It looks like she may have even had ballots printed. She went to all that trouble, and you say she didn’t run because she didn’t have any presidential electors in her pocket? I could understand if you believe her run wasn’t legal. You could object that it wasn’t legal because she was a woman, because she was 34, or because her ballot wasn’t valid. But to say she didn’t run?

    If a horse gets out of the gate and breaks its leg in the middle of the race or gets disqualified, does that mean the horse never ran the race? No. It just means he didn’t finish. Just like the horse, Woodhull ran, but the government broke her legs (figuratively speaking). She was thrown out of apartments, hotels, and boarding houses for her social and political views. She spent election day in jail, and ended up filing a claim against the government for malicious prosecution.

    By the way, I’m glad you mentioned that the ballots in 1872 were privately prepared. It’s been stated on several web sites and a few books that the government did not put Woodhull’s name on the ballot because she was under the constitutionally mandated age of 35. You obviously know that the government didn’t print the ballots. The Australian ballot is so common most people think that was the way it always was.

    I do understand that the presidential election is decided by the Electoral College and not the popular vote. Don’t even get me started on that one. Woodhull believed in reforming the Electoral College; I believe in abolishing it. In any case, I think if someone votes for a candidate, they have a reasonable expectation that their vote will be counted in the popular returns, even if the candidate doesn’t stand a chance of winning. Alas, in our republic (note that I do not say democracy), that is not the case, and most people are not even aware of it. The current system limits the pool of candidates from which we can select, and on this point, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir.

  6. While on this topic, I know we have already had a woman serve, those not elected, as President of the United States.
    While Woodrow Wilson was laid up after his stroke, his wife was acting President (not legally), and since she was both a woman and a Native American, we have had both a woman and a minority president of the United States.
    Linde Knighton

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