As they celebrate the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president, many also recognize it’s something they thought they’d never see.
Whatever their position on the Democratic spectrum, women across the Puget Sound area viewed Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of the party’s presidential nomination as a moment that will redefine American ideas about the nation’s highest office, carrying significance far beyond the emotion of the moment.
“The presidency has always been constructed as a very masculine thing — the father of our country, a general, a war hero,” said Margaret O’Mara, an associate professor of history at the University of Washington and author of “Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections That Shaped the Twentieth Century.”
“With Hillary, it’s always, ‘What side of the street does she walk on — is she commander-in-chief or is she the mother-in-chief?”
O’Mara, who worked for President Bill Clinton’s administration during the early 1990s, has watched the former first lady navigate a difficult, sometimes treacherous, path between her various roles: first spouse and policy expert, tireless campaigner and devoted grandmother.
“In the political arena, it’s been a dangerous game for women to present oneself as both a strong leader and human. So this is a really big deal,” O’Mara said.
A crowd of about 200 watching Clinton’s speech on television from a party near Safeco Field gave the candidate two standing ovations — once when she officially accepted the nomination and again when she urged supporters, “Let’s be stronger together.”
Gwen Hazard, a Chinese immigrant who knows well the second-class status of girls in her native land, wept through Chelsea Clinton’s introduction of her mother.
“I’ve loved her for so long,” Hazard said. “She’s been for women and families forever.”
Hardly the first woman to run for president, Clinton follows Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Elizabeth Dole, among others. But she is the first to secure the nomination of a major party. And she entered political life in the 1970s, a time when many states did not allow women to take out credit cards in their own names.
Her position as a longtime political insider is, ironically, part of what makes her candidacy so remarkable, said Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at The Evergreen State College, who noted that many of Clinton’s predecessors were seen as fringe candidates, firebrands or dissidents.
“For Baby Boomers, young women who were literally laughed at if they expressed a desire to be a political or economic leader, this is really a stunning kind of thing,” Coontz said.
But among millennials, the significance of Clinton’s ascension has often been missed.
Not for Violet Clark, 15, who is too young to vote but, nonetheless, persuaded her mother to support Clinton. The teenager appeared awe-struck by Clinton’s speech and the possibility of a woman becoming president.
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“I’ve never seen a woman in this position. She’s a mom and a grandma and she’s the most qualified person for the job,” Clark said.
Many veteran women politicians in Washington said they never expected to see a woman nominated for president in their lifetimes.
Jean Godden, who had a 30-year journalism career before serving three terms on Seattle City Council, said, “I’m delirious. How long has it taken us to get here?”
Now 84, Godden recalled being twice turned down by editors at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when she wanted to report on Olympia. “We weren’t allowed to cover politics. That was a man’s job,” she said.
Pat Davis, 81, was the first woman elected to the Seattle Port Commission in 1986. During her campaign, she received angry calls from men who’d found out she was “Patricia” and not “Patrick.”
They called her a fraud. She went on to serve for five terms.
State Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, is an inheritor of those pioneers. Attending the convention as a delegate for Bernie Sanders, Frame said she’ll have no problem backing Clinton this fall, in part, because she respects the candidate’s toughness and determination — despite those who would evaluate her for other qualities.
“She is absolutely judged by a different standard, as are all women who are in the public eye,” Frame said. “She is judged for the pitch of her voice. She is judged for the clothes she wears. She is judged for her laugh.”
Back in Seattle earlier in the day, Dorothy Hollingsworth, 95, was preparing to watch Clinton’s speech from her room at the Lakeshore Retirement Home in South Seattle. In 1975, Hollingsworth became the first African-American woman elected to the Seattle School Board.
“I felt we should have been there all along,” Hollingsworth said. “I feel the same way about Hillary.”