Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, was a passionate advocate for the needs of minorities, women and children. During her time, she changed the nation’s perspective about what women and Black Americans were capable of.
She began her career as a New York City educator, where she saw the problems of the poor every single day. This led her to run for, and win, a seat in the New York State Legislature in 1950. From there, she ran for Congress using the motto “Unbought and Unbossed,” and won herself a seat on behalf of New York’s 12th Congressional District. Throughout her time in Congress, she supported and improved employment and education programs, the expansion of day care, income support, and other programs designed to improve inner city life and opportunities for those communities.
Shirley Chisholm became a household name when she became the first Black woman to make a bid for President of the United States when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972. Her platform focused on racial and gender equity, elevating those issues to the national stage. She frequently fought for reproductive rights for her community and understood that economically thriving and safe communities were tied to education and health care. In 1970, she became co-founder of the National Organization of Women’s Rights, a nonprofit taking action to lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political, and economic life.
One of her most significant contributions was the 1974 minimum wage legislation that expanded minimum wage standards to apply to domestic workers, as well as to additional state and local government employees.
After she retired from Congress, she was appointed Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. In 1984 she co-founded the National Congress of Black Women, and in 1990, she co-founded African American Women for Reproductive Freedom. In 1993 she was honored by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Her influence is still seen today, with Vice President Kamala Harris citing Chisholm as inspiration to begin her own political career. Shirley Chisholm will forever be known as a woman breaking barriers, and when once asked about her legacy she said: “I want to be remembered as a woman… who dared to be a catalyst of change.”