Contributed by Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA, Curator for Italian American History at Western Reserve Historical Society.
Geraldine “Gerry” Ferraro (1935–2011) was the first woman and Italian American to become a vice presidential candidate when she ran on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984. While the team did not win the election, Ferraro had a long, successful career in politics. She served as a member of the US House of Representatives from 1979-1985, secretary of the House Democratic Caucus from 1981-1985, US Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1993-1996, and as a member of Hilary Clinton’s campaign team in 2008.
Ferraro was born in Newburgh, New York, to Antonetta Corrieri, a seamstress, and Dominick Ferraro, a restauranteur. Her father emigrated from Marcianise, Campania, Italy. Her grandparents on her maternal side emigrated from Molise, Italy. Ferraro was proud of her Italian heritage. In the acceptance speech for her nomination as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro said, “The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love.”
After getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts in English, Ferraro served as a public school teacher in Queens. She said it was not her first choice of career, but one option that was acceptable for women. Ferraro soon switched gears and studied law at Fordham University, graduating in 1960. She was only one of two women in her graduating class. After raising her children, Ferraro took a full-time position in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in 1974. This job led to her election to the U.S. House of Representatives where she was a strong advocate for women’s equality in the areas of wages and pensions.
(Photo: Geraldine Ferraro. Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images)