Home The 80s 80s History The First Female Democratic Vice President: Geraldine Ferraro

The First Female Democratic Vice President: Geraldine Ferraro

portrait of Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Anne Ferraro served in the United States House of Representatives as a lawyer. In 1984, she broke with convention by running for vice president with presidential candidate Walter Mondale. She was the first woman to run on a national ballot for a major political party, running for the Democratic Party. Her nomination is one of the top political events of the 80s.

Who was she?

Before Geraldine became a member of the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1978, she served as an assistant district attorney. Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential contender, running alongside Walter Mondale and leading her party’s platform committee in 1984. She went on to work for the UN and with Hillary Clinton. Geraldine was born in Newburgh, New York, on August 26, 1935. 

She was born into a working-class Italian American family and lost her father when she was eight years old. Her mother relocated to the South Bronx with Ferraro and her brother, where she worked as a seamstress.

Ferraro attended Marymount Manhattan College on a scholarship after graduating from the Marymount School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1956 and went on to work as a teacher in the New York City public school system. Ferraro decided to pursue a legal profession and enrolled in night studies at Fordham University, where she graduated with a law degree in 1960.

Ferraro married realtor John Zaccaro in the same year. Donna, John Jr., and Laura were the couple’s three children. She worked in private practice when her children were small. Ferraro began her public service career in 1974 as an assistant district attorney in Queens County. The creation of the special victims’ bureau, which prosecuted a range of cases that includes crimes against children and the elderly and sexual assaults and domestic violence, was one of her most noteworthy achievements to the district attorney’s office.

Ferraro ran for office for the first time in 1978, running for the House of Representatives in New York City’s ninth district. She positioned herself in her hometown of Queens as a tough-on-crime politician who knew the difficulties of the working class. Ferraro won the race, demonstrating that he is a rising Democrat.

Ferraro campaigned for women’s rights during her three terms in office, supporting the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. She also became a vocal critic of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, particularly potential social security and Medicare changes. Ferraro was a member of the Public Works Committee and the Budget Committee, among others. She became a strong icon for the feminist movement as one of the few women in Congress at the time.

As she rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party to become one of the party’s top members, Geraldine Ferraro was elected secretary of the Democratic Caucus in her second term, which meant she was involved in determining the party’s future direction and policies. Ferraro was elected head of the Democratic Party Platform Committee at the national convention in January 1984.

How her nomination boosted Mondale’s ticket

Ferraro was suggested as a possible running partner for Walter Mondale, the Democratic presidential candidate, in 1984, later that year. Mondale, who had previously served as Vice President under President Jimmy Carter, was cautious in his choice. He ultimately chose Ferraro, who became the first woman to be nominated for vice president by either country’s two major parties. He was a Midwesterner, and she was a Roman Catholic and a New Yorker, so Mondale and Ferraro formed an intriguing couple.

Many are excited about her nomination, which gave the new ticket a big boost, bringing the polling to nearly even Republican challengers Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George H.W. Bush. When Mondale named Ferarro, then 48, as his vice president pick, the new ticket was down 16 points in the polls.

Ferraro was a brilliant public speaker on the campaign trail, and she always drew large crowds everywhere she visited. But Hillary and Mondale were up against President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush, two popular incumbents. When charges of financial wrongdoing against Ferraro surfaced, concerns about how her first congressional campaign was supported arose. More stories about her husband occurred when he first refused to provide his tax filings. Even though all relevant records were finally published, Ferraro’s conjecture and her husband tainted her reputation.

The Reagan-Bush ticket comfortably won re-election, as many had expected. Ferraro served in the House for the duration of her tenure, retiring in 1985. Soon later, she published Ferraro, My Story, a campaign memoir.


Ferraro died on March 26, 2011, in Boston, Massachusetts, at the age of 75. Her family noted in a statement published immediately after her death, “Geraldine Anne Ferraro Zaccaro was a well-known leader, a persistent champion for people who had no voice, and a tireless warrior for justice. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, and aunt to us, a passionately committed and loved lady by her family. Her bravery and generosity of spirit throughout her life, in the face of major and small conflicts, public and private, will never be forgotten, and she will be much missed.”

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