25 years later, Ferraro reflects on groundbreaking nomination

Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro
Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale made history when he announced he'd chosen Geraldine Ferraro, a woman, to be his running mate.

On July 12, 1984, Mondale, a former Minnesota senator and former vice president, announced he'd chosen U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York to be his running mate. Ferraro was the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket.

After Ferraro accepted the offer to be Mondale's running mate, she immediately called her family. Her youngest daughter, Laura, answered the phone.

"She just said, 'Did you really?'" Ferraro recalled. "She repeated it three times, and every time she repeated, her voice just went higher and higher and higher. And then after I hung up from them, I looked out the door to my staff person, and I said, 'David, we're going to be making history.'"

Mondale made it clear he wanted an unconventional running mate. He interviewed at least seven people for the job -- only one of them a white man.

"I looked for the best vice president," Mondale said in his speech at the state Capitol, "and I found her in Gerry Ferraro."

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Former Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe, who was in the audience, said people were close to hysteria they were so giddy.

"I looked for the best vice president, and I found her in Gerry Ferraro."

"The balconies were jammed; people were outside the door who couldn't even get in and people were just squeezed together," Growe said.

"And I could look out around the chamber, and the look on the faces of the women was just wonderful, I mean people couldn't stop beaming. It was really a historic moment and one that still makes me flutter when I think about it today."

The current Minnesota speaker of the House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, was 16 years old living on her family farm when the Ferraro announcement came across the television.

"I remember one of my brothers being a little bit crabby about it," Kelliher said. "I was probably supposed to be helping him hay baling or something like that. And my mom said, 'No, no, she gets to watch this. This is history.' I think it did leave an impression on me of what women can do and what women can be involved in terms of the roles in politics."

Ferraro's nomination gave the Mondale campaign a surge of support, but not a lasting one. In late July 1984, the Gallup poll showed Mondale and Ferraro in a statistical tie with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. But on Election Day, Reagan won in a landslide. Mondale and Ferraro carried Minnesota, but that was the only state they carried.

Still, Ferraro is proud of the campaign, which inspired women around the country.

"I still get letters," she said. Ferraro said people still come up to her on the street to say what she meant to them and what effect the '84 campaign had on them.

"The impact of the campaign is not what I feel or hear, it's what people feel or hear," she said.

Ferraro said the way Americans view female politicians has changed significantly in the last 25 years.

"When I left the House in 1984, there were 22 female members," she said. "You look at it now, we have a woman speaker.

"If you take a look at how women have progressed in the political sphere, I think it's unbelievable. So I think you have since 1984, the recognition that women can be part of the legislative process, and not only can be, but should be," she said.

Today there are 77 women in the U.S. House, a huge gain from 1984. But that is still less than one-fifth of the total membership, and America still has never elected a woman as president or vice president.