“You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

 

Shirley Chisholm was born Shirley St. Hill on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York. Shirley was dedicated to her education from the very start when she attended primary school in Barbados. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College in 1946 and a Master of Arts in Education from Columbia University in 1952. Chisholm’s early career as an educator led her to become involved in early childhood education and child welfare, as well as sparking an interest in politics that would shape the rest of her life.

After volunteering with various political clubs in Brooklyn, Shirley served as a member of the New York State Assembly from 1965 to 1968. During her tenure as democratic member of the state assembly, she helped ensure that unemployment benefits were extended to domestic workers and she sponsored the introduction of SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge), which provided an opportunity for disadvantaged students to access a college education. In 1968, Chisholm ran for the US House of Representatives. Her slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed”. In November of that year she was elected as the first black female member of Congress with 66.5% of the vote. During her tenure as a congresswoman of New York, Chisholm worked to expand the food stamp program and played a critical role in the creation of The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). A founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus, Chisholm hired only women, half of which were black, to work in her office.

In 1972, Chisholm became the first black major party candidate to run for President of the United States. Although she was ultimately unsuccessful in her bid for the Presidency, she did manage to inspire future generations of women to be come politically active — including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Chisholm served in Congress until her retirement in 1982. She dedicated herself to improving opportunities for inner-city residents and advocated for reductions in military spending while supporting increased spending on education, health care, and social services. Upon retirement from politics, Chisholm resumed a career in education teaching politics and sociology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts between 1983 and 1987. She toured college campuses, advising student and community groups to get active locally. In 1990 Chisholm became a founding member of the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom and in 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Chisholm died from a series of strokes on January 1, 2005.