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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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
“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.
“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
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
“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.
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!”
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?
Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved