Geraldine Ferraro

Carol RoachStarred Page By Carol Roach, 2nd Aug 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

This series of women in high ranking positions is a major series that will be broken down into several parts. Geraldine Ferraro is the beginning of the series.

Geraldine Ferraro the early years

In the 1980’s women were making inroads in many areas once considered for males only. American women wondered, could a woman actually become the Vice President of the United States? Geraldine Ferraro was the woman who tried to make this happen.

Geraldine Ferraro – The early years

Geraldine Ferraro was born on August 26, 1935, in Newburgh, N.Y. to a first generation Italian mother who worked as a seamstress and an Italian immigrant father and restauranteur. Geraldine became the sole surviving sibling after both her brothers died; one during infancy and the other barely three years old. Geraldine met the ugly face of death yet again; her father died of a heart attack when she was but eight years old.

Antonetta, Geraldine’s mother, invested the family savings and lost it through some bad investments. Geraldine and her mother had to relocate to a low rental in South Bronx. Now that they were financially distressed, Antonetta worked in the garment factory to make ends meet.

Early schooling

Geraldine attended a parochial school, Mount Saint Mary’s in Newburgh. She had to transfer to another parochial school in South Bronx when they relocated. By the time she was 12, she was living-in at her newest parochial school, Marymount Academy in Tarrytown, N.Y. Her education was funded by rental income the family still had in Italy.

Academic standing

Geraldine was very bright. She skipped the seventh grade and was a member of the honor society and very active in many clubs and sports. Geraldine graduated in 1952 and was voted “the mostly likely to succeed” by her peers.

Antonetta inspired Geraldine to continue her education even though she was facing the social mores of the time. Her own uncle remarked, "Why bother? She’s pretty. She’s a girl. She’ll get married."

Again we see evidence of males trying to keep women down.

Geraldine Ferraro and higher education

Geraldine was determined to make a success of herself. She attended Marymount Manhattan College. Although he received a scholarship, she had to work two and three jobs, and maintain her high academic achievements.

In 1966, Geraldine had obtained her Bachelor of Arts Degree and became a school teacher. She was the first female in her family to get a university degree.

Life as a school teacher

It was not that Geraldine Ferraro did not enjoy her work because she did. However, Geraldine knew that she was destined for other things, she was the girl most likely to succeed and she was about to prove her peers and prove to American at large that they were right. She needed to do more to make her mark on American history and women’s lives in general.

Geraldine put her focus on law and from the get go she was faced with resistance in one form or another. The college admissions officers cautioned, “I hope you are serious Gerry. You’re taking a man’s place, you know."

Geraldine graduated from Fordham University school of Law with honors. She earned her Juris Doctor degree there.

It is to be noted that she did this while taking classes at night. She never stopped teaching. She was a second grade school teacher during the day and a law student by night. Geraldine was truly a hard worker, fighter and the women who would succeed. She was one of only two women admitted to the bar of New York State that year in 1961

Geraldine Ferraro: Wife, Mother and Professional

Geraldine married John Zaccaro on July 16, 1960. The couple had three children together. Ferraro choose to keep her maiden name as an honor to her mother who struggled so hard to raise her. She did sometimes use her married name in private life; however, honoring her mother and recognizing all women was also important to her.

Ferraro was a dedicated mother and while raising her children she worked part time as a civil lawyer at her husband’s real estate firm; she occasionally had a choice to work for other legal clients. She also managed to do pro bono work for women in Family Court. She spent some time in democratic clubs so that she could stay abreast of what was happening in the political area and also maintained important contacts. This is a lady you can see did it all and did it well.

By 1970 she was elected the Queen’s County Bar Association President.

In 1974, Geraldine began full time work with her appointment as Assistant District Attorney for Queen’s County, N.Y. The District Attorney who appointed her was her cousin Nicholas Ferraro.

Though some may argue nepotism, women did need a break. Women prosecutors were almost non existent in the city during that period of history. Her work stood out for itself, she was qualified.

Special Victims Bureau and Supreme Court Bar

In 1975, Ferraro was assigned to the Special Victims Bureau and dealt with rape cases, spousal abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. By 1977 she headed the unit. Ferraro became a strong advocate for childrens’ rights.

In 1978 she was admitted to the Supreme Court Bar.

Inequality within the work force

Inequality within the workforce

Ferraro worked long hard hours as head of the Special Victims Bureau and member of the Supreme Court Bar. She gained a reputation for being tough; but, fair in plea negotiations. She sometimes conducted trials and her oratory and summations always won the jury over.

After all her efforts and hard work to bring justice to the victims of these crimes, Ferraro discovered she was paid less than her male counterparts. The lame excuse she was given was that she was a married woman with a husband who could support her. Equality in the workforce was still not recognized even in these top legal careers!

Ferraro is tired out

The long hours, hard work, stress and strain of the job caused her to develop an ulcer and so she decided to change her career focus; to get into legislative branch of the legal system instead.

House of Representatives

Ferraro ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1978, for New York’s 9th Congressional District in|Queens. She had tough competition. Her democratic rivals were well-known. She was not that known, at that level of government policy making.

What she had going in her favor was her heritage, this area of Queens was known for its ethnic constituents and she was born of Italian stock. Ferraro’s platform was law and order, support for the elder population, and preserving the community.

She labeled herself as a conservative with a small c, but her campaign slogan was, “ Finally a tough Democrat.” Ferraro won the three-way primary and went on to win the election by a 10 percent margin.

Campaign funding is questioned

The campaign was sticky as Geraldine Ferraro’s campaign was funded by family and declared as illegal. Her husband John Zaccaro had to repay the loans taking out for her campaign. Zaccaro had civil fines to pay for civil violation of election law.

Despite the bad publicity Geraldine Ferraro continued to forge ahead.

In 1980 she founded the National Organization of Italian American Women

Rise in the ranks

Geraldine made a great impression upon the house and quickly became the house speaker, Tip O’Neil’s protégé .

Geraldine Ferraro was elected to the Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus for 1981–1983; 1983–1985.

She became a member of the House Steering Committee.
House Budget Committee
Public Works and Transportation Committee
Post Office and Civil Service Committee

Because of her new found positions, Ferraro was able to push through policies that would directly benefit her district. She also gained the respect of her male peers who saw her as very tough and ambitious.

At the same time Geraldine was active in Democratic presidential politics. She needed to stay abreast of what was happening and make important inroads to achieve her political goals. She served on various committees in that arena and by 1983, she was already regarded as one of the future stars of the party.

In 1984, she became the first woman to hold the position of Chairwoman of the Platform Committee for the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Equality for Women

In Congress, Geraldine championed women’s issues. She advocated for women’s equality in the workforce with emphasis on wages, pensions, and retirement plans. She concentrated largely on the problems of elderly women during her time on The House Select Committee for the Aging.

Ferraro also worked towards making the pension plan amenable to people who left worked and returned after a long period of time; this being a common concern for working women who left the workforce to raise a family and then returned in later years.

Ferraro criticizes the Reagan Administration

Geraldine did have interests in other areas as well. She was concerned about the environment and tried to prevent the federal government from overriding local laws on waste material. She led the passage of the Superfund bill, which criticized Reagan’s handling of the environmental cleanup sites.

Geraldine Ferraro criticized The Reagan administration’s handling of the Contra (various terrorist groups opposing the 1979 Nicaraguan government) situation. She strongly believed that US security was best handled through negotiations with the contras and not through military might. She traveled to Nicaragua to talk with the contras in 1984.

Ferraro championed pro choice, as a woman’s right just like her feminist sisters. Yet, on other stands she did take a more conservative position. For example, she supported the deployment of the Pershing II missile and the Trident submarine for US military defense. At the same time, she was against the funding for the B-IB bomber, the MX missile, and the Strategic Defense Initiative (program to protect the United States from nuclear ballistic missile attacks).

Ferraro called herself a moderate and reflected that her views were influenced by her days as a district attorney. She said,

“no matter how concerned I am about spending, I have seen first hand what poverty can do to people’s lives and I just can’t, in good conscience, not do something about it.”

Vice President Candidacy 1984

Women’s organizations were in favor of supporting a woman vice presidential candidate. The National Women’s Political Caucus, The National Organization for Women, and house speaker Tip O’Neill, were in favor of the bold move. Ferraro was on the democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale short list as well as a few other women. On July 12, 1984, Mondale officially selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate.

Mondale calculated that she would be not only a favorite among the women, her ethnic background would win over supporters as well. He was also hoping that she could win back the Northeast democrats who had moved over to Reagan’s team.

First woman to run on a major party national ticket in US history

Though Geraldine Ferraro may have been considered inexperienced, she was monumental to the women’s cause. She was the first woman to ever reach that political status in US history. The first woman in US history to run for Vice President of the United States of America.

Her acceptance speech was so moving it had conventioneers in tears, she remembered her womanhood and her roots when she said,

"The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love.”

Geraldine Ferraro gained overnight popularity and with her notoriety came criticism. She was criticized for being inexperienced. Though a valid concern, the age old sexism biases raised their ugly head. Ferraro was a target simply because she was a woman. She was grilled on whether or not she could be tough enough, should she become the vice president of the United States. Would she, a mere woman, be able to take over the presidency should the need arise?

The big question arose

"Do you think that in any way the Soviets might be tempted to try to take advantage of you simply because you are a woman?"

Questions about Ferraro and her husband’s finances once again surfaced and even reports of her deceased father having numbers slips were brought out in the political mud slinging. She could not live down her previous money issues.

She loses the election

Geraldine Ferraro loses the election

After the lost of the election, congress concurred that Ferrar0 had violated tax laws by not given full disclosure of her family’s taxes. They dismissed the case though. saying it was not deliberately held back.

It would be the first time that a spouse’s income would be scrutinized where married women in high positions were concerned. The double standard of double incomes where women were concerned continues.

No woman yet to reach vice president or president of the USA

The democrats were not successful in winning the election that year and so a woman did not get into office.

The only other time a woman was to run on a major political party ticket would not happen again until 2008, when Sarah Palin would take center stage.

Geraldine Ferraro's focus trailblazer for women

Geraldine Ferraro weathered the storm and managed to publish her book, Ferraro: My Story, in 1985.

She also started the Americans Concerned for Tomorrow political action committee promoting 10 female candidates for the congressional election in 1986.

Ferraro’s husband’s business deals continued to be the focus of concern through the 1980’s and Ferraro stated that he would never have been under such scrutiny had she not run for the vice presidential ticket.

Geraldine’s reflected;

“More than once I have sat down and said to myself, oh, God, I wish I had never gone through with it…. I think the candidacy opened a door for women in national politics, and I don’t regret that for one minute. I’m proud of that. But I just wish it could have been done in a different way."

Geraldine Ferraro rose from her humble beginnings as the daughter of an immigrant, and a product of a single parent family home when her father died. She was educated in New York parochial schools and kept the dream of education and opportunities for all women alive.

She worked hard all her life, maintaining honor status in school, while sometimes having to take on two jobs to support herself through university, then on to her professional career. She was a teacher, mother, wife, lawyer, district attorney, congresswoman, and dared to run for the vice president of the United States of America.

In all of that she never forgot the issues of poverty and being a woman in America.

The Aftermath

In 1989, she was president of the International Institute for Women’s Political Leadership

Geraldine remained active in fund raising campaigns, and took care of her sick mother in her later years before her mother died of emphysema in 1990.

In 1991, Geraldine again ran for a democrat senate position and again the innuendos about her finances surfaced. Ferraro maintained that none of this would be occurring if she was a man. Her Italian background seemed a good enough reason for her critics to connect both her and her husband to organized crime; without one shred of proof.

She lost the election by less than a percentage point

In 1993, Geraldine published Changing History: Women, Power and Politics

Also in 1993, President Clinton appointed her to the US delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in Vienna. She was then promoted to head the UN Commission on Human Rights Delegation, giving her the rank of US Ambassador.

Ferraro has been the voice of women’s rights all over the world. It was during her term in office that Antisemitism was condemned as a human rights violation. It was also the first time that China would be not be able to block any criticism of its record on human rights violations. Geraldine held the office until 1996.

In 1996 Ferraro was the co host on CNN TV Crossfire. It did well in the ratings.

Ferraro ran again in 1998, for a senate seat, she had no fund raising, for fear her finances would come up yet again. She was defeated; thus marking the end of her political career.

That same year Geraldine was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. She did not make her condition known until 2001.

She advocated for the passing of the Hematological Cancer Research Investment and Education Act. Part of the act was named in her honor as the Geraldine Ferraro Cancer Education Program.

Despite the cancer, she remained active, she was a political commentator on the Fox news channel from 1999 -2007. She co-wrote Campaign Countdown, a rundown to the 2000 election.

In 2000 she also co-founded G&L Strategies which was a management consulting firm.

In June 2003, Ferraro became executive vice president and managing director of the public affairs practice of the Global Consulting Group.

In 2007, she held a principal position in Black Rome Law firm, which included lobbying in both New York and Washington.

Geraldine Ferraro has been served on many other boards and established other organization. Illness or not, her work ethic never wore thin.

Awards and Honors

Received numerous awards during her parochial school and university years

National Women’s Hall of Fame – 1984
Received numerous awards from local organizations when she was a congresswoman for Queens, N. Y.
Life achievement award from the Sons of Italy Foundation, in 2007
Trailblazer Award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations in 2008.

Ferraro died at Massachusetts General on March 26, 2011.

President Obama said, "Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life,"

All photos taken from the public domain

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Congresswoman, Congresswomen, District Attorney, Equality For Women, Female Us Ambassadors, Geraldine Ferraro, House Democratic Caucus, Multiple Myeloma, Nations Commission On Human Rights, Poverty, Poverty In America, Secretary Of The House Democratic, Un Commission On Human Rights, Us Ambassadors, Women In High Profile Careers, Women In Politicals, Womens Rights

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author avatar Carol Roach
Retired therapist and author of two books, freelance writer, newsletter editor, and blogger. I write, health, mental health, women's issues, animal , celebrity, history, and SEO articles.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
2nd Aug 2015 (#)

The UK is well ahead of the USA in terms of accepting women in power positions.

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author avatar Retired
5th Aug 2015 (#)

I like Ferraro. Maybe because she plays the multiple roles of wife, mother and professional with aplomb!

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