Texas Tech University

Experts: Hillary Clinton's Political Success the Culmination of Historic Efforts

Glenys Young

June 15, 2016

Former first lady, United States senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the cusp of being named the first female presidential nominee of a major American political party, a milestone expected to happen during the Democratic National Convention in late July. Shattering this particular glass ceiling is a major step forward for women, especially considering how recently American women were unable to participate in the political process, even by voting.

On June 18, 1873, social reformer and feminist Susan B. Anthony was convicted on a charge of illegally voting in the presidential election of 1872. One of nearly 50 women who tried to vote the previous November, Anthony stood out – and her trial became a national controversy that propelled the women's suffrage movement into the spotlight.

But even then, change was slow in coming. The 19th Amendment, which prohibits voting restrictions based on gender, was not ratified until 1920.

Texas Tech University has two experts available to discuss the historic role of women in American politics and the political implications of Clinton's historic selection. Seth C. McKee is an associate professor of political science with expertise in American political parties, campaigns and elections. Emily Skidmore is an assistant professor of history who specializes in women's history.


Seth C. McKee, associate professor, Department of Political Science, (806) 834-1880 or sc.mckee@ttu.edu

Talking points

  • After making history with the nomination and subsequent election (and then re-election) of the first African-American president, the Democratic Party has now nominated the first woman in the history of major party politics in the United States.
  • Just as the country has generally trended in a more democratic direction, meaning not the party, but the expansion of suffrage and the influence voters have in determining major party presidential nominees, the Democratic Party has come to look more and more like its rank-and-file voters. Indeed, it seemed only a matter of time before the demographically diverse Democratic Party would favor an African-American candidate (the racial group most supportive of the party) and then a woman (the gender more supportive of the party) to run for the highest office in the U.S.
  • Hillary Clinton is an interesting choice for a woman to finally be a major party nominee since she has tremendous political experience and a remarkably large share of detractors.
  • Hillary and Bill Clinton are two inseparable political figures.


  • "This achievement is a strong reflection of the mass electorate that supports the Democratic Party since it is demographically diverse both racially and with respect to gender, with more women generally favoring Democrats over Republicans since the 1980s."
  • "To some extent, Hillary Clinton's unpopularity with such a large portion of the electorate stems from her many years in the public eye and the various controversies that have surrounded her because of certain actions (e.g., Benghazi) and indirectly because of her husband's personal indiscretions."
  • "Bill Clinton's political success amidst scandal launched Hillary's political career. Hillary endured the personal embarrassment of a cheating husband but also used her association with a successful president to win a U.S. Senate seat in New York. From there she sought the largest electoral prize but came up short against the charismatic change agent in then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. Obama made her Secretary of State, and almost everyone expected Clinton to attempt to succeed him as president. In 2016, despite the controversy surrounding her, it is more likely than not that a majority of voters, most of whom are women, will make Hillary Clinton the nation's first female president. But like Obama, given the changes to the American electorate, in the near future America will elect more minority candidates to the White House. And perhaps someday, even a black female president will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave."


Emily Skidmore, assistant professor, Department of History, (806) 742-3744 or emily.skidmore@ttu.edu

Talking points

  • The history of women fighting for access into politics is almost as old as the United States itself.
  • Any advance made by women in politics has been the result of sustained grassroots activism.
  • It's no accident that our first female presidential nominee of a major national party is a former first lady.


  • "For much of our nation's history, women have been barred from political participation. However, this ban has always been contested. For example, in 1776, when John Adams was in Philadelphia participating in the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams wrote to him, encouraging her husband to take seriously the rhetoric of the American Revolution about equality and freedom and argued that it should apply to women as well. However, John Adams shared the dominant mindset that women were unfit for politics, responding to his wife, 'As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh.' This comment reflects the fact that men did not take women seriously as political actors in the early history of the United States. Any shift in that mindset can be credited to the sustained activism of women."
  • "Often progress is discussed as natural in American history, but this perspective ignores the hard work and dedication of activists that have preceded all legislative victories that have allowed women access to the full range of citizenship rights and duties, whether that be the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury or the right to retain ownership of property after marriage. None of these rights were afforded to women by the Constitution in 1776, and the establishments of these rights came only after thousands of women organized and demanded to be treated as full citizens."
  • "Throughout the 1850s, there were women's rights conventions held throughout the country. The movement was stymied during the Civil War and suffered from fractions in the late 1860s and 1870s (many white female activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were upset when black men were afforded the right to vote after the Civil War before white women). However, activists carried on and began to narrow their focus increasingly on gaining the right to vote but were fought tooth and nail. Female activists were arrested — Susan B. Anthony in 1872 for trying to vote and many more would be arrested in the 1910s as women picketed the White House, calling for Woodrow Wilson to pass a suffrage amendment."
  • "Alice Paul, for example, was arrested in June 1917 for picketing outside the White House and was sentenced to seven months in jail. The conditions inside the prison were atrocious, and she initiated a hunger strike in protest. This hunger strike, along with the continued picket lines outside the White House, ensured the issue of women's suffrage would continue in the press and that Woodrow Wilson would continue to feel pressured into action. Thus, in January 1918, with the U.S. mired in World War I, he deemed women's suffrage necessary as a 'war measure,' and he urged congressional action. Despite this urging, Congress dragged its feet, causing female activists to redouble their efforts, some of them chaining themselves to fences outside the White House, while others burned banners with Wilson's quotes about democracy on them. It was not until June 1919 that Congress passed the 19th Amendment. And again, this passage was not simply due to the natural progress of American society; Congress was forced into action by the courageous activism of generations of women."
  • "Many people have been critical of Hillary Clinton for not 'earning' her seat and instead have credited the fact that she was first lady. However, this perspective ignores the structural inequalities which have made it difficult for women to enter politics. Earning the right to vote was simply one step to full political equality – and keep in mind that the 19th Amendment did not enfranchise all women; black women in the South, for example, were effectively barred from voting due to Jim Crow laws until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1964. Well into the mid-20th century, women were still underrepresented in colleges and the careers men traditionally utilized as stepping stones into politics. Female candidates battled against the perception their sex made them less qualified than their male counterparts, even if they possessed the same credentials. Additionally, getting elected into office, especially at the state or national level, requires a great deal of capital, and female candidates have had less access to established political networks. For all these reasons, even 96 years after women earned the right to vote, women remain grossly underrepresented in local, state and national government. Women make up only 19.3 percent of the U.S. House and 20 percent of the Senate. Given the structural problems that limit women's access to higher office, it's no accident Hillary Clinton is our first female nominee for president. Her connections to her husband no doubt have aided in her ability to maneuver in a political system still run by men."