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How Geraldine Ferraro changed the political outlook for women

July 17, 2014 at 6:44 PM EDT
Thirty years ago, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be named a vice presidential nominee on a major party ticket. Ferraro’s daughter, filmmaker Donna Zaccaro, tells the story of her mother’s trailblazing career in a new documentary. Judy Woodruff talks to Zaccaro about "Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way," and the effect she had on American politics and culture.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This Saturday marks the 30-year anniversary of the nomination of the first woman ever to run for vice president on a major party ticket. She was New York Democratic Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.

A documentary by her daughter titled “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way” tells the story of her mother’s trailblazing career and the effect she had on American politics and culture.

We begin with an excerpt from that film, inside the Democratic National Convention hall in San Francisco where Ferraro was formally nominated by her running mate, Walter Mondale, on July 19, 1984.

WALTER MONDALE, Former Presidential Candidate: I have had many people tell me it’s the best national convention we have ever had. People were thrilled. The crowds were building up outside the hall to be close to what was going on.

WOMAN: I nominate Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York to be the next vice president of the United States of America.


GERALDINE FERRARO, Former Vice Presidential Candidate: It was as emotional as I had ever seen at a convention, thunderous, the response and emotion. To talk about it, it was so spectacular.

WOMAN: The floor of the convention was virtually all women, and women who had fought so hard for women’s rights. And, oh, my God, it was such a wonderful moment.

COKIE ROBERTS, Journalist: Standing up there all in white, looking like this tiny little figure, but looking beautiful and looking female.

GERALDINE FERRARO: I was stunned by the reception.

And, all of a sudden, I looked down. They were all women and children. And so many of them were crying. I remember thinking, I just don’t want to make a mistake. I have to talk slowly. I tried — I had never used prompters before then.

I also took my speech, because I wanted to be sure, if the prompters went out, so that I could look down and read it, and tell my daughters, whatever you do, don’t cry, because we can’t. Women can’t cry over the things. It’s too emotional, and it’s a tough job. And you have to be tough to be vice president of the United States.

And so I looked out and I said, my name is Geraldine Ferraro.

My name is Geraldine Ferraro


GERALDINE FERRARO: And the place went crazy.


GERALDINE FERRARO: Ladies and gentlemen of the convention…


GERALDINE FERRARO: I got two words out of my mouth, and they would applaud and yell, “Gerry, Gerry.”  And it was very, very slow.

And it was almost like a dance between me and these people.

I stand before you to proclaim tonight, America is a land where dreams can come true for all of us.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And Ferraro’s daughter, filmmaker Donna Zaccaro, joins us now.

Welcome to the NewsHour.

DONNA ZACCARO, Filmmaker, “GERALDINE FERRARO: Paving the Way”: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: You were 21 years old when your mother accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president. You were there. What was that night like?

DONNA ZACCARO: Well, obviously, it was a night that none of us had experienced before, but I think people who were there — and you heard Leader Pelosi talking about how — and Cokie Roberts talking about how people who were there knew that it was something special, that there was just this, like, electricity. And it wasn’t like anything that had ever been experienced before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I actually was there too. And I remember. It was a special moment for women in — no matter who you were, what party you were in.

So it was 30 years ago, Donna Zaccaro. Your mother passed away three years ago.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What — why did you want to make this film?

DONNA ZACCARO: You know, I wanted to both clarify and preserve her legacy, but I also wanted to introduce her and this part of women’s history to younger generations today, because people — we know what happened then.

We might not understand what her impact was or the impact of a candidacy that, frankly, didn’t win had. But I think younger people today don’t have any idea what it was like before. And so I really do want it to be used as an educational tool, so generations to come can know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think people don’t remember? Is that part of this?

DONNA ZACCARO: Well, I think anyone who is over 35 certainly has no awareness of it. Anyone who is — sorry, the reverse of that. Anyone who is under 35 doesn’t know.

People who over 35 do remember, but again they might not remember much, other than the fact that she was nominated. They might not remember what it was like before there was a woman who had run and shown that you could be a credible candidate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You — in telling the story of that campaign, you tell the highlights, but you also tell about the tough moments, the time when your family’s finances were under enormous scrutiny.

Your father for a time didn’t want to reveal his tax returns. That had to be a really difficult time for your mother and for your whole family.

DONNA ZACCARO: Yes, I thought was really important.

I have been a journalist my career as well. And I also thought it was very important to show all the scrutiny and the attacks that they were subjected to, because, first of all, the silver lining was that, in how she handled those difficult situations and the attacks and the controversies, it showed that she had the grit and the leadership to be a leader.

But, also, I thought that people had to see what the first, what the pioneer went through, and what that was like.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet it took another, what, 24 years before another woman was nominated on a major-party ticket. That was 2008, when Sarah Palin was nominated to be vice presidential running mate with John McCain.

What does that say about the legacy of what your mother’s candidacy meant, do you think?

DONNA ZACCARO: I don’t know that it says anything about the legacy of her candidacy, because I think it was a very different choice.

I think, in McCain’s case, it was more of a sort of Hail Mary pass and it was political expediency. He did not have — he wasn’t considering any women or actually any minorities or anything else on his — when he was looking for a vice president selection.

And it was very different. With Mondale, he had actually opened the whole process very publicly and deliberately, because he wanted to include groups that had been excluded before into consideration for the vice presidential spot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in terms of women in politics, there certainly are more women serving in the Congress, 20 percent of the Congress. It’s not parity, but women have come a long way. And yet there’s still so much focus when women do run.


Well, you know, it’s unfortunate that we haven’t had a woman vice president or president. And, hopefully, we will in the next election cycle. But, you know, I think, traditionally, as you know, where the vice presidential nominee and the presidential nominee come from are either the governor’s mansion or the Senate.

And, fortunately, we are having more people now, more women in those roles. We have got 20 in the Senate now, 20 women in the Senate, and we have got, what, six governors who are women. Maybe it’s five.

But, anyway, so those are the traditional places. Until there are even more than that, that is where people are chosen from. So we are getting people in the pipeline. And we have got more Supreme Court justices that are women.


DONNA ZACCARO: We have got three secretaries of state that were women.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think should be the — one of the main takeaways for younger women thinking about going into politics?  Your mother went through an incredible scrutiny as a candidate.

It may have gotten a little bit better since then, but it’s still different, isn’t it, for women?

DONNA ZACCARO: Well, I think it’s still tough, and for women, particularly women who are managing households and have families.

You know, I think one of the lessons in the film as well is just how important my father’s support of my mother was during that campaign and actually throughout her career. You know, my mother always said, you can be whatever you want to be, you can do whatever you want to do with education, with hard work, but you also need to have help in order to achieve your goals.

And so you do need either a supportive partner or some means of getting help in order to do what you want to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Donna Zaccaro, the daughter of Geraldine Ferraro, remembering her mother, a historic campaign in 1984, thank you very much.

DONNA ZACCARO: Thank you so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: “GERALDINE FERRARO: Paving the Way” is available on Showtime through the end of August.