"When we speak of the future, the message is Geraldine Ferraro."
That was the message of presidential candidate Walter Mondale as he accepted the 1984 Democratic nomination at his party's convention. He didn't clarify what he meant by that reference to his running mate, but presumably Ferraro's gender — she was the first woman even tapped by a major party for its White House ticket — was understood as a key component of his rhetoric.
As far as the near future went, Fritz was a mediocre prognosticator. It wasn't until today, with Republican John McCain's selection of Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, that a major party has again chosen a woman for the ticket. (And of course, Hillary Clinton's vigorous bid for the top spot on the Democratic ticket, with its "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," certainly bears mention — although that was this election cycle, too.)
As Palin said this morning, "It turns out that the women in America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling."
There have been female candidates for president dating back to 1872, when Victoria Woodhull ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Frederick Douglass — yes, an African American — as her running mate. Although pioneering, her run was marked by a few not inconsequential problems, including bothers like not being able to legally vote herself, not being the constitutionally required age to be president and not having her name appear on ballots. But it was a start.
What about the Congress?
Ferraro was one of 24 female members of Congress in 1984, 22 in the House. That was 4 percent of the total of the two chambers.
This Congress, there are 93 women in Congress (keeping in mind the recent death of Ohio's Stephanie Tubbs Jones), with 78 of those in the House. While that's up 288 percent from the count in 1984, it still represents but 17 percent of the total congressional head count.
Palin, though, isn't a legislator. She's a governor. And as such, she's still pretty much a rarity. Some 29 women have served as governors of U.S. since Nellie Tayloe Ross helmed Wyoming in 1925, and eight — with Palin the most recent addition — are serving as governors now. That's a 16 percent rate.