The first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. View the Video
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. She was a Congresswoman, representing New York’s 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1968, she became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (US Senator Margaret Chase Smith had previously run for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination). She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents. She had three younger sisters. Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana and arrived in the United States via Antilla, Cuba, on April 10, 1923, aboard the S.S. Munamar in New York City. Her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados, and arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Pocone on March 8, 1921. He was a worker in a factory that made burlap bags and she was a seamstress and did domestic work.
At age three, Shirley was sent to Barbados to live with her maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale, in Christ Church, where she attended the Vauxhall Primary School. She did not return until roughly seven years later when she arrived in New York City on May 19, 1934, aboard the S.S. Narissa. As a result, she spoke with a partial West Indian accent throughout her life. In her 1970 autobiography Unbought and Unbossed, she wrote: “Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados. If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason.”
Beginning in 1939, Shirley attended Girls’ High School in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, a highly regarded, integrated school that attracted girls from throughout Brooklyn. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1946. There, she won prizes for her debating skills. She was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
She met Conrad O. Chisholm in the late 1940s. He had come to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1946 and would later become a private investigator who specialized in negligence-based lawsuits. They married in 1949 in a large West Indian-style wedding.
Shirley Chisholm taught in a nursery school while furthering her education, earning her MA from Teachers College at Columbia University in elementary education in 1952.