When Walter Mondale named former New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as the first woman on a major party’s presidential ticket, TIME greeted the news with a cover story declaring it “A Historic Choice.” But running against a popular sitting president, her chances seemed slim: “The odds are firmly against Geraldine Ferraro, 48, actually becoming the first woman to stand next in line of succession to the White House,” TIME wrote then. Indeed, with little to lose by going for broke, Mondale made a calculated search for a groundbreaking candidate who would generate maximum buzz for his campaign, reviewing several female and minority candidates before choosing Ferraro — narrowly — over then-San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein. But while the choice may have been calculated, the response, as TIME reported, was unprecedented:
Even before the candidates spoke in St. Paul, Mondale’s aides were polling Democratic convention delegates and party contributors; after the announcement, calls streamed in from state and party leaders all over the country. The response startled Mondale’s assistants. Said one: “The men who participated in this decision, including Mondale, had no idea how popular it would be.”
Feminists were agog. Many, even political activists, interpreted the news in intensely personal terms. Said Ann Richards, State Treasurer of Texas: “The first thing I thought of was not winning, in the political sense, but of my two daughters. To think of the numbers of young women who can now aspire to anything!” At a National Organization for Women press conference in Washington, Democratic Leader Sharon Pratt Dixon was so carried away that she started to pronounce the name of the head of the ticket as “Walter Ferra…” She corrected it to Walter Mondale amid a gale of laughter.
Read the cover story, “Geraldine Ferraro: A Break with Tradition.”