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Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm: A Critical Analysis Of Her Life

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Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm

A Critical Analysis of her life

and her Political Contributions

Table of Contents

I. Biography ................................. 3

II. Political Contribution .................... 4

III. Legal impact ............................. 7

IV. Model of Law ............................. 8


A distinguished congresswoman, scholar, and African American spokeswoman, Shirley Anita Chisholm was the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Chisholm was a dynamic public speaker who boldly challenged traditional politics, 'Fighting Shirley Chisholm', as she called herself during her first congressional campaign, championed liberal legislation from her seat in the House beginning with her inauguration in 1968 and continuing until her retirement in 1982. She ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.

Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill on November 30, 1924, in the impoverished Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Her father, an emigrant from Guyana, worked as an unskilled laborer, and her mother, a native of Barbados, was a seamstress and a domestic worker. Extraordinary circumstances separated Chisholm from her parents for much of her early childhood. Struggling to save money for a house and for their children's education, the St. Hills sent their four daughters to live on the farm of a grandmother in Barbados. From the age of three to the age of eleven, Chisholm received a British elementary school education and acquired a West Indian rhythm of speech. An important influence on her early life, her grandmother instilled in her the values of pride, courage, and faith. Her parents took her back to Brooklyn at the age of eleven.

Graduating with an excellent academic record from a Brooklyn girls' high school, Chisholm earned a scholarship to study sociology at Brooklyn College. She quickly became active in political circles, joining the Harriet Tubman Society, serving as an Urban League volunteer, and winning prizes in debate. Her interest in her community led her to attend city meetings, where, as a student, she astonished older adults by confronting civic leaders with questions about the quality of government services to her predominantly black neighborhood. While beginning to establish her profile in her community, she also impressed her professors with a powerful speaking style and was encouraged to enter politics. She received her sociology degree with honors in 1946. While working in a nursery school she studied for a master's degree in elementary education at Columbia University where she met Conrad Chisholm, whom she married in 1949. Two years later she received her master's degree in early childhood education.

Over the next decade Chisholm built a reputation as an authority on early education and child welfare. She served as the director of the Friends Day Nursery, in Brownsville, New York, and, from 1953 to 1959, of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, in Lower Manhattan. Taking her expertise into the public sector, she became an educational consultant in New York City's Bureau of Child Welfare from 1959 to 1964. In addition to her professional work, she participated in a variety of community and civic activities. She served on the board of directors of the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People and became a prominent member of the Brooklyn branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She frequently volunteered her time for such groups as the Democratic Women's Workshop; the League of Women Voters; and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League, an organization formed to support black candidates. Her intense participation in local politics--marked by her forthrightness and her willingness to confront politicians with difficult questions about racial equality--made her unpopular with the predominantly white Democratic establishment in New York. But it won her the recognition and respect of her community which was about 70 percent African American and Hispanic residents.


In 1968 Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for the U.S. Congress. In her pursuit of the Democratic nomination for the Twelfth District she bested two other African American candidates and was appointed New York's National Committee representative at the party's national convention. She later said that to win the nomination she had to beat the political machine, an entrenched bureaucracy that had never been fond of her brash style. With the nomination in hand, she faced her Republican opponent, James Farber, a liberal white male who enjoyed national prominence as a civil rights leader. Farber was expected to win, but on November 5, 1968, by a margin of more than 2-1, Chisholm staged an upset victory. The success of her campaign, which ran under the slogan 'Unbought and Unbossed', was attributed both to widespread support from women and to her ability to address Puerto Rican voters in Spanish.

From the moment she took her seat in the House of Representatives, Chisholm demonstrated a strong yet dominating personality that would mark her career in Washington, D.C. With her, it would not be politics as usual. Her initial appointment to a minor subcommittee of the Agriculture Committee struck her as a waste of her talents and experience, and, despite warnings that she was endangering her career, she protested. The House Ways and Means Committee relented and she was appointed to Veterans' Affairs. In her first speech on the floor of the House she vowed to vote against all defense spending. She told lawmakers, "Our children, our jobless men, our deprived, rejected and starving fellows, our dejected citizens must come first."

Chisholm's goals as a congresswoman were twofold. First,



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