Who Said a Woman Can Be President?

vintage Maidenform ad woma in bra campaigning

Questioning whether a woman can be President is as dated and ludicrous a notion today, as this vintage 1956 Maidenform ad of a woman on the campaign trail with the tag line “I Dreamed I Went Whistle Stopping in my Maidenform Bra!”

What would JFK think of Hillary’s bid for the Presidency?

As Hillary Clinton begins her run for President  some Republican pundits are still debating whether a woman is worthy of sitting in the oval office. During another presidential election nearly 60 years ago, a brash young senator named John F. Kennedy asked and answered the prescient question “Can a woman be President?

His answer may surprise you. It didn’t Hillary.

Hillary Rodham for President

President Hillary Rodham JFK article

“Would You Want Your Daughter to be President?” inquired the bold black headline. “Before becoming too deeply involved in the merits of the question we ought to first ask ourselves: What are the chances of a woman becoming President?”

It was late October 1956, election day was a few weeks out and the Presidency was on everyone’s mind.

Including a 9 year old Hillary Rodham.

Proudly sporting an “I Like Ike” campaign button pinned to her brownie uniform, her sash bedecked with patches and pins attesting to her many achievements, the studious Park Ridge, Illinois schoolgirl had her bookish nose buried in an unlikely magazine.

Reading with the same diligence and enthusiasm she normally gave her studies, an article in Everywoman’s Magazine – penned by a handsome Junior Senator from Massachusetts – had riveted the earnest young girl who all but ignored the birthday celebration that awaited her.

Neither the lure of a luscious birthday cake or the pile of fanciful wrapped presents festooned with satin ribbons and bows could distract the determined young Hillary from this engrossing feature that posed the question “Can a Woman Ever Be President?”

A Lot of Moxie

collage Book cover Profiles in Courage and picture of midcentury housewife

The 1956 “Book Profiles in Courage” by Senator John F Kennedy profiled U.S. Senators ( all male) who defied the opinions of others to do what they felt was right despite great criticism. The lack of any women featured in this book is no surprise. In post war America, women who had dutifully served their country with courage during WWII were now dutifully serving their husbands at home.

The provocative article written by John F. Kennedy, the author of the years best-selling book Profiles in Courage, displayed a different sort of courage to ask such a question in 1956.

This was, after all, the era of the happy homemaker a time when women were celebrated for their domestic prowess’. It was the same year that Life magazine proudly declared “ Of all the accomplishments of the American Woman, the one she brings off with the most spectacular success is having babies.”

Estrogen and ambition seemed a dangerous cocktail to some.

Kitchen Ambitions

vintage images 1950s mother and daughter in kitchen

From the cheery suburban kitchen, Hillary’s mother Dorothy tenderly eyed her only daughter deeply engrossed in the magazine article. Smiling in satisfaction, Mrs. Rodham expertly spread the angel pink frosting on the 7 layer devils food birthday cake.

It was an ambitious undertaking but she had promised to make Hillary’s favorite cake, carefully following the recipe from the well-worn United Methodist Women’s First Church Cookbook of Park Ridge. Chuckling to herself, Mrs Rodham knew the frosting was the only thing “pink” in this fervently anticommunist home that her prickly husband Hugh would tolerate.

Recipes For Success

Vintage magazine cover Everywomans women in chefs hats and turkey

Vintage magazine cover Everywoman’s Nov. 1956

Earlier in the week the happy homemaker had been thumbing through the latest issue of Everywoman’s Magazine when she spied an article that fairly jumped out at her.

There nestled between features for fanciful new bathroom curtains and cook-to-please casseroles was an item that she was sure would interest her brainy, motivated daughter.

“Could Your Daughter be President?” the article asked its readers.

 

Text woman becoming President 1956

Imagine that, Dorothy thought in amazement. But what were the chances of a woman actually becoming President? With the Middle East in an uproar, Russia flexing their formidable muscles, and the  civil rights crisis brewing at home,  the highest office in the land required formidable skills.

On the other hand Dorothy thought to herself, she would never have imagined in her wildest dreams that her own United Methodist church would decide to grant women full ordained clergy status just this past May.

But a woman President!

However, if any daughter could be President it could be Dorothy’s.

She was certain her little girl would find the article captivating.

This was no Grimm’s fairy tale (though the prospects seemed rather grim.) The story spun by the idealistic senator would hold more appeal for young Hillary than any Cinderella story. Gorgeous Grace Kelly may have married her prince that year, but Hillary had her eye on a bigger prize.

All the Way with JFK

John_F._Kennedy_nominates_Adlai_Stevenson_1956

The 1956 Democratic convention turned out to be a national showcase for the young Massachusetts Senator who only a year earlier had been little known across the country. Chosen by Governor Stevenson s camp to place Adlai’s name in nomination for the Presidency, Kennedy also narrated a film about the Democratic Party. JFK had thrown his hat in the ring for Vice Presidency but was defeated narrowly by Senator Estes Kefauver.

It was no accident that the magazine had asked the ambitious Senator Kennedy to write the article. The telegenic politician’s star was rising, and some thought he had his eyes set for the 1960 presidential run.

Only a year earlier  the fresh-faced Junior Senator had been little known across the country. But the recent 1956 Democratic Convention held in Chicago turned out to be a national showcase for the young Senator where he had been narrowly defeated as a vice president.

By the end of summer, Chicago was buzzing about the 39-year-old Kennedy after his stirring nomination speech for Adlai Stevenson, none more so than the ladies who swooned at his movie star good looks.

Father Knows Best

Hillary Clinton Republican family

Basking in Eisenhower post war peace and prosperity, the Rodhams were die hard Republicans

Everyone in Chicago it seemed was taken with Kennedy.

But not Hugh Rodham.

Hillary’s father was unimpressed with the young upstart.

Looking up from his newspaper, Hugh sourly sniffed at the very sound of JFK’s name when the die-hard Republican  inquired about the article that had so fascinated his daughter..

The Chicago businessman had had his fill of his town being run over by Democrats that August. If there was one thing Hugh  held more in disdain than Democrats it was the Chicago Democratic machine.

Vintage illustration capitalist burning money

It was all meaningless anyway.

No Democrat could drive Ike out of office despite his advanced age of 66. The Eisenhower post war prosperity assured his reelection was inevitable, eventually passing the Presidential  baton to his capable Vice President, Richard Nixon in 1960.

Compared to a real hero like Dick Nixon, Hugh thought Kennedy was  a lightweight coasting on his good looks and privilege.

While her father groused on about JFK, Hillary ignored him focusing on the future of the Presidency.

It wasn’t the author’s movie star good looks that drew her to the article.

It was the sense of possibility.

A Woman For President? by John F. Kennedy

collage vintage Woman and Mt Rushmore

The permanence of a patriarchal presidency still seems written in stone for some. The question of whether is America ready for a female president, is still a favorite among the pundits on Fox news who seem to enjoy rehashing this old nugget.

Kennedy’s  article in Everywoman’s Magazine opens in the far distant future. Taking on the tone of an episode straight out of the Twilight Zone, the reader is presented with a fantastical daily schedule for an imaginary female President detailing the overwhelming challenges a Commander-in-Chief would have to face. Surely it would seem unimaginable for a mere mortal woman to handle.

“Today’s Appointment Schedule for President Lucy R Jones as released by the White House Press Secretary, is as follows:
10 A.M.- Review troops at Andrews Air Force base as Commander-in-Chief of all US Armed Forces
12 Noon– Address US Chamber of Commerce on her Administrations Tax, Fiscal and Tariff Policies
2P.M.– Confer with her party chairman and national committeemen on this years political prospects.
3P.M.– Press Conference.
4P.M.- Confer with British and French Prime Ministers on current threats to peace.

“Ridiculous, some will say; why not?, say others. It will never happen, say still others.

Parents react differently too. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my daughter grew up to be President?”, some mothers are thinking. “I certainly wouldn’t want any daughter of mine in that job,” say others.

Before becoming too deeply involved in the merits of the question as to whether a woman should ever become president, we ought first to ask ourselves: What are the chances of a woman becoming president? Is the above hypothetical press release on an imaginary woman President of the future a complete fantasy, a fictional dream impossible of realization in the foreseeable future?

The answer to this question may throw considerable light on the question of how desirable it would be to have a woman President.

 

President Daughter SWScan04645

Hillary’s eyes grew wider as she carefully underlined key passages.

“After all, little more than a generation ago both men and women scoffed at the idea of women generally running for office at any level or being appointed to any government or position of real responsibility. Women might eventually be permitted to vote it was said and a few would be given honorary positions here and there to attract the “female vote”; but surely it would go no further than that.

Speaker of the House?

Vintage housewife on telephone

“These prophecies were proven mistaken in rapid order- 51 women have served in the House of Representatives and 9 have served in the Senate.

But, some will say, naturally women can be elected to Congress because they possess the one necessary qualification – they can talk.

This is, of course, not an accurate picture of the difficult requirements for Congressional service today; but further answer to these skeptics ( who apparently shudder at the awful possibilities of a female filibuster) is found in the many responsible executive and administrative posts which women have filled in the last generation.

Blonde Ambition

Barbie For President

Despite their many accomplishments women in politics are still trivialized by sexist stereotypes Would you trust Barbie to have her hand on the nuclear button?

The article goes on to outline the history of women’s accomplishment in government.

“…Women have been appointed to courts to represent us as “ambassadresses” in diplomatic negotiations abroad and to be Treasurer of the United States ( This last appointment, when first sent to the Senate for confirmation, was received with considerable suspicion by Senators whose wives had difficulty balancing a bank account)

Another woman ( Mrs Anna Rosenberg) was even appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of manpower!

In short, the past generation has sen a revolution in the old concepts of woman’s role in public life.

Unlikely as the possibilities of there being a female President seem today, it would be a foolhardy prophet indeed who would predict that event would never occur, once he had reviewed the changes wrought in the last three decades.

The Park Ridge baby boomer’s ears perked up.

Who Counts

“Public opinion to the surprise of many has kept pace with this trend. In 1937 the Gallup Poll first asked a cross-section of the American public: “Would you vote for a woman for President?” Only 33% said “yes” while 63% said no with 4% having no opinion.

But in 1955 less than 20 years later, 52% said “yes” and those replying in the negative had declined to 44%.

Interestingly enough, according to the polls, women are about as prejudiced against sending a member of their sex to the White House as men are. On this I have no comment.

That prejudice remains today. In 2014 Michelle Bachman famously said “I don’t think there is a lot of pent-up desire for a woman president.”

Diversity

Hillary Clinton and President Obama

Hillary Clinton and President Barrack Obama Photo courtesy of AP

 

“This gradual decline in the prejudice against women in politics and the Presidency is I believe part of a general decline in the perpetuation of unfounded political barriers and prejudices.

Catholics, Jews and Negroes are among those elected today to high offices in states where such occurrences would have been considered unbelievable only a few years ago.

Majority Rules

“But even further cause for the rise of women in high office is their status as a “majority “ group.

Approximately 2 million more women than men are eligible to vote this year, and this year women are expected to outnumber men at the polls on November 6.

Sixty years later this “majority” still earns less than men and don’t occupy top executive positions.

The Woman Thing

Vintage ad Midol Peggys Dismal 1966

Sure Peggy’s dismal. Women in politics have long been stigmatized as being “ruled by their emotions.” A guest on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News Show lamented not long ago that a female President would be undermined by “PMS and mood swings.” Just this past week a Dallas woman’s post on social media went viral when she stated that “A Female Shouldn’t be President” because of hormones despite the fact she herself was a successful businesswoman. Vintage ad for Midol 1966

“The ability of women to direct rugged political campaigns, administer vast executive departments display brilliant legislative leadership and handle difficult foreign military and domestic problems has shattered the old concepts of political inferiority and executive weakness.

Appearances Matter

Clinton Hillary Hair

“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”- Hillary Clinton

“The possibilities of there being a woman in the white house should thus be considered neither unlikely nor disastrous. The more important question is when this will occur, and how and under what conditions it might be brought about.

And no doubt some parents will ask what steps they should take to prepare their daughters for the Presidency.

In answer to these questions it seems to me that it is important first of all to stress that a woman will enter the White House only when she is not looked upon as a woman. By that, I do not mean that her sex should be concealed or ignored; but it would have to be considered irrelevant to her qualifications for the office as her religion, maiden name or shoe size.

Don’t Drown Me in Estrogen

Can a woma be president text 1956

Sound familiar Only last week on CNN’s  State of the Union broadcast, Republican strategist Ana Navarro advised Clinton to stop emphasizing the “woman thing” because voters did not want to be drowned in estrogen.

Made For a Broad

Women Role Models for President Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan of Arc and helen Keller

A future president according to Kennedy would “require the charm and wisdom of an Eleanor Roosevelt, the leadership and military prowess of a Joan of Arc, and the pluck – to keep going under almost overwhelming odds- of a Helen Keller.” Since it has long been rumored that Hillary held imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt while First Lady in the White House, she may have been on to something. Images L-R, Eleanor Roosevelt, 1948 Movie Poster “Joan of Arc” and Helen Keller

 “For the Presidency, above all, requires broad representation of, and outstanding leadership for, all elements in our society.

It requires an outlook which does not emphasize only the “traditional “women’s issues”- equal rights, world peace, education and child health and welfare – but is equally at home with foreign and military affairs, labor relations, the needs of agriculture, governmental administration and other issues.”

There is every indication that more and more American daughters are acquiring this kind of broad political outlook and interests.

Hillary Pantsuit

The fashion police are in full force when it comes to female politicians. Now that Hillary’s in the race, pundits can start talking about important things that mater to the voters like pantsuits and hairstyles.

Recent surveys moreover have indicated that women are concerned about the same important issues as men.

Finally, I would remind young women aspiring to the Presidency- or their parents who aspire for them – that the first woman president, because of the fact that she is a woman, will have to be an extraordinarily capable chief executive. ”

She will require the charm and wisdom of an Eleanor Roosevelt, the leadership and military prowess of a Joan of Arc, the stately compassion of a Queen Victoria, the political sagacity of a Clare Boothe Luce, the courageous determination of a Sister Kenny, the pluck – to keep going under almost overwhelming odds- of a Helen Keller, and, in addition, all of the best qualities and skills of the Republican and Democratic lady officials mentioned earlier in this article.

“No doubt beauty and grace will also be important to her nomination and her election.”

“Is there such a woman, or is there a chance that their ever will be? Of course there is- and if the Democrats nominate her, she will receive my vote!”

Birthday Wish

Dorothy called out to her daughter – they were ready for Hillary . In the distance the joyous singing of her family gathered around the dining room table, broke her reverie. Sporting a coonskin hat, her younger brother Hugh boisterously singing “Happy Birthday” nudged his sister into the celebration.

The bright orange glow from the candles on her birthday cake lit her smiling face.

Closing her eyes little Hillary blew out her birthday candles and made a big wish!

Sixty years later, do you think her wish will come true?

Hillary Clinton 2016

Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

 

 

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17 comments

  1. I think the fact that we have not had a woman president is beyond sad. After all, the choice among her male counterparts has not been anything to write home about. I’m not a fan of Hilary but I think there have been, and continue to be, very qualified women of both parties that should get the support they need.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan

    I always enjoy your posts, but it took me a while the realize that you combine fact with fiction in a way that isn’t always obvious — and could be misused by others. (Your posts about your grandmother and the polio epidemic, or nuclear bomb drills for schoolchildren, seemed like completely real memories to me at first — because I, too, experienced those drills and those parental fears.) Thank you for sharing this article from Everywoman’s Magazine (and how carefully worded it is!) — but, did Senator Clinton really read it? I don’t know, without a footnote reference. (Look how her comment about not “baking cookies” was used against her — by people who thought that was a woman’s role regardless of her other talents.)
    Incidentally, am I the only person who’s offended when NPR refers to “Mister” Obama or “Mrs.” Clinton? People who have been elected to high public office customarily retain their highest elective title for life — and long after. I haven’t seen any references to “Mister” Reagan, or even “Mister” Huey Long.

    P.S.Now that we know how much chancy stock market trading is affected by high testosterone levels — see http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080414/full/news.2008.753.html or http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/06/13/why-male-hormones-may-drive-the-stock-market-and-override-investors-ability-to-think-rationally/
    shouldn’t we worry more about male politicians’ raging hormones?

    Like

    • The storyline about Hillary was purely fictional, a bit of satirical speculation, not meant to be taken at face value. Sorry if this was confusing for you. And I agree that raging hormones come in both sexes too!

      Like

  3. It’s about time. Your post may be fictional but I am sure it’s close to the truth. Unfortunately the haters are already coming out of the wood work. Rand Paul wants to be president. Ted Cruz wants to be president. Marco Rubio wants to be president. Jeb Bush wants to be president. Rick Perry wants to be president. Mike Huckabee wants to be president. Add the experience of all those men up and they only fill half the glass of Hillary’s experience. And yet, there will be those who say she’s not qualified. Why? She lacks a penis. Just like President Obama is the worse President of the United States ever. After all, he’s black. They’re all whispering, “Next thing you know we will get a Jewish President. That will only happen over Jesus’ dead body.” Some folks, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If they applied the same level of acute scrutiny Hillary has been continually subjected to, I doubt any of those potential candidates you mentioned would stand up to the withering criticism the way Hillary Clinton has. BTW, just to clarify, the story in the post about Hillary was of course fictional, the article by JFK was authentic.

    Like

  5. AC

    I’d love my daughter to be President, just not HC. What pundits have been debating whether or not a woman should or could be President? I haven’t heard any of that. Certainly there has been debate whether HC should be. This constant drumbeat that Republicans are racist and sexist only resonates with the committed left. The Republican Presidential primary field is shaping up to be one of the most diverse, if not the most diverse in history, but that will go unnoticed and the drumbeat will continue.

    Like

  6. I believe anyone can be president, ESPECIALLY A WOMAN. We could really benefit from less chauvinism in our culture, i.e. paying the avg woman 77 cents on every dollar a male makes. We could really benefit from a Latino woman since they are paid on the average ONLY 55 CENTS ON THE DOLLAR. A Native American woman would be nice, as well. Perhaps Washington and the rest of the country could benefit from the traditions passed down through the 10,000 years that all the tribes were here before Christopher Columbus landed on the shores.

    Like

  7. Any day now, we will get the “information” that Hillary and Bill had voodoo cannibal fiestas and satanic black masses in the Arkansas swamps. The average trustworthiness of the media messages are rapidly sinking towards the zero level. And sometimes they dives below ground level – like Trump’s latest ‘trumpism’. The man is just plain stupid, but at least he proves that ANYBODY can get rich and famous.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043861/Claim-Hillary-Clinton-t-satisfy-husband-winds-Donald-Trump-s-Twitter-account-staffer-retweets-it.html
    According to the celebrity gossip, Trump obviously can’t keep his women for long, in spite of all his money.

    What the world dreams nightmares about, is that a fundamentalist right-winger wins the White House keys – and with them, that certain box with the button that can launch 6000 nuclear warheads. Maybe he or she finds the world so depraved and thoroughly sinful, with gay marriages and all, that it would be a good idea to declare The Apocalypse – so the righteous could be resurrected for thousand year in a world cleansed from the abominations.

    This recorded broadcast (below) from way back when, starts with a commercial spot for a cleanser named BAB-O.
    I tried to check what chemicals the stuff was made of, but found a quite early ad – picturing a MAN doing the dishes! At least he looked mostly male…

    This has an all female cast, too. (The fairy queen looks very feminine)

    Like

  8. Excellent information. There are limitations within the power structures that seem to encourage male dominance (specifically white male). I also have a blog that aims to educate and provide information to counteract this structural inequality. Keep up the good work!

    https://politicalideasandeducation.wordpress.com/

    Like

  9. Not even a warrior queen could get childcare when she goes to war

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Shlazette Komizya

    “Smiling in satisfaction, Mrs. Rodham expertly spread the angle pink frosting on the 7 layer devils food birthday cake.” ANGLE pink frosting? I may get your angle, but I’m not touching your cake.

    Like

  11. While we all are eagerly waiting for AI – the stupid spell-checker has no concept-parsing whatsoever. But for special texts, like medicine with a special and limited set of words, it would be possible to have the program ask for confirmation every time a new word is introduced in the text input.
    But AI still has trouble with simple sentences like “Time flies like arrows”. Does that mean that you “should time flies in the same way you would time arrows? Or are “time flies” fond of arrows? Should you time flies the same way as the arrows would? Measure the speed of flies that are like arrows? 🙂

    Like

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