Boosalis Helped Shatter Glass Ceiling

As the 2016 presidential election approaches, most observers are nearly certain that former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will enter the race. Most think that if she runs, her winning the Democratic nomination is a foregone conclusion, and in most polls she remains the odds-on favorite to win the entire election. If that is the case, Clinton would become the first female president in American history, thereby shattering the proverbial “glass ceiling” that continues to encase politics in the United States as a male-dominated realm.
Other women, of course, helped to pave the way, as Clinton herself understands. In 2008, when she first ran for president and was then, too – considered the heavy favorite until Barack Obama came out of nowhere to upset her for the Democratic nomination and later the general election – Clinton acknowledged the contributions toward shattering that ceiling made by U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D – NY) who in 1984 became the first female major party vice presidential nominee. Twenty-four years passed until another woman was nominated vice president, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, chosen as Republican nominee John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
Within that period of time, other women rose to great heights in American politics and helped pave the way for Clinton and Palin, not least of which Greek-American Helen Boosalis.
Two score years ago (aka, 1975), Boosalis, born Helen Geankoplis in 1919 to Greek immigrants in Minneapolis, MN was elected governor of Nebraska’s capital city Lincoln. It was fitting that Boosalis’ transformational political career began in Lincoln, a city named after America’s arguably most transformational president, Abraham Lincoln. Boosalis not only became Lincoln’s first female mayor, but in 1981 became the first woman to serve as President of the United States Conference of Mayors. Throughout her tenure as mayor, Boosalis “often went head-to-head with a male-dominated business community that had become accustomed to having its way at city hall,” wrote the Lincoln Journal Star. Boosalis stood her ground and emerged as resolute, bold and tough,” the Star wrote, and male politicians would often walk into her office “to give Helen a piece of their mind and come out with their head on a platter.”
In 1986, two years after Ferraro and Democratic ticket headliner Walter Mondale were trounced in the presidential election by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – the Republicans won 49 out of 50 states – Boosalis sought the governorship of Nebraska. Even though she lost, Boosalis helped to make history. The race pitted Democrat Boosalis against Republican Kay Orr. It was the first time in Nebraska’s history that both major party nominees for the state’s highest office were women. In fact, Orr remains the Nebraska’s only female governor, to date.
The Orr-Boosalis race helped pave the way for future female gubernatorial candidates. To that point, only four women – not counting spouses of former governors of the same state – were elected governors of U.S. states. Since then, there have been an additional 27.
Whether or not Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016 remains to be seen. When analyzing her chances, however, of the possible obstacles standing in her way, her gender is nowhere near the top. Had this been 1975, when Boosalis was first elected mayor, it would have been almost unthinkable to expect a female presidential candidate to have a realistic chance of winning, let alone to be the perennial favorite.
Nebraska historian James Potter described Boosalis as one of the state’s best known and most effective politicians during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.” Beyond that, Boosalis was a trailblazer, whose political accomplishments cemented women as symbols of power and authority leading cities and states, and, probably in the not-too-distant future, the entire nation.


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