January 28, 2005
Shirley Chisholm: Activist, Professor, and Congresswoman
who held the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke for four years after
retiring from the U.S. Congress in 1983, died January 1, 2005,
in Ormond Beach, Florida, at age 80.
Chisholm was born
in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924 and was sent to live with her maternal
grandmother in Barbados in 1927. She returned to Brooklyn in 1934
and attended Girls High School in Brooklyn and Brooklyn College,
where she began her lifelong battle against racism and social
After graduating in
1946 from Brooklyn College, she worked in day care and participated
in local politics. She won a seat in the New York General Assembly
in 1964 and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968. Chisholm
was the first African American woman to serve in Congress. She
was a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War and a cofounder of the
National Organization for Women. She stated, "Women in this country
must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old,
the traditional roles and stereotypes."
In 1972, Chisholm
ran for president of the United States, declaring, "I am not the
candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the
candidate of the people." She was the first African American --
and the first woman -- to seek nomination for president by a major
political party, winning 151 delegates.
Chisholm retired from
Congress in 1982. History professor Joseph Ellis, dean of faculty
at the time, suggested to then president Elizabeth Kennan Burns
that they invite Chisholm to teach at the College. At a series
of initial meetings with the congresswoman on campus, Ellis recalled
a group of students asking her for advice on becoming social activists.
"Learn how to raise money," she told them. Chisholm accepted the
offer and came to Mount Holyoke in 1983 to teach politics and
"She contributed to
the vitality of the College and gave the College a presence,"
said Ellis. "Her message was always, 'Blacks and whites need to
do this together.'"
many honorary degrees and awards, including Alumna of the Year,
Brooklyn College; Key Woman of the Year; Outstanding Work in the
Field of Child Welfare; and Woman of Achievement.