Geraldine Ferraro, Vice-Presidential Nominee

The daughter of first-generation Italian American immigrants, Geraldine Ferraro would later remember her mother’s fierce insistence that her talented daughter continue her education through college. “Gerry” kept the family name to honor her mother’s principles and sacrifices. Ferraro earned a Fordham J.D. at night while teaching elementary school and later had three children of her own. She was a tough and accomplished prosecutor and headed New York’s Queens County Special Victims Unit before winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978.

As Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984, she faced unprecedented scrutiny as both the first woman and the first Italian American to appear on either major party’s presidential ticket. Ferraro’s humor and thick skin served her well, but could not ultimately change the outcome of the race. After the historic but unsuccessful run, she remained an active and visible supporter of progressive and women’s causes. Ferraro later practiced law, offered her distinctively feisty political commentary on Fox News and served as a U.S. ambassador during the Clinton administration. Bill and Hillary Clinton perhaps captured her best in a joint statement released following her death in 2011: “One of a kind—tough, brilliant, and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she believed in—a New York icon and a true American original.”