Meet the First Black Woman Elected to the U.S. Congress

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1924. She later became the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress and also the first African American to launch a campaign for a major party presidential nomination.

After living for part of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother, in 1934, she returned to New York City to pursue her studies. She graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1946 and attended Columbia University for graduate work in Elementary Education. She went on to work as a teacher before joining the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare where she helped to mold the Unity Democratic Club into an organized body for the support of district reforms.

She launched her political career in 1964 when she was elected as the first African-American assemblywoman from Brooklyn. Then, in 1968, Chisholm was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democratic congresswoman. This made her the first African-American woman ever to be elected to Congress and her reputation as a maverick who crossed party lines made her a well-respected politician dedicated to the goals of equality.

In 1972, Chisholm made history again when she became the first African American and the first woman to seek a major party's nomination for President of the United States. Chisholm pulled together a coalition of Blacks, feminists, and other minorities. Although she lost the Democratic nomination to George McGovern, she remained in Congress until 1982 when she retired from politics.

In 1984, she founded an organization called the National Political Congress of Black Women dedicated to the elimination of racism and sexism in America and in American politics.

Shirley Chisholm sadly passed away on January 1, 2005. In 2015, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama which is considered the highest civilian honor in the United States.