Maria Cantwell

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro - March 29, 2011

Maria Cantwell
March 29, 2011— U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
Congressional floor speech
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U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, paid tribute to the life of Geraldine Ferraro in a speech on the Senate floor.

Madam President, I rise today to honor the life, achievements, and legacy of Geraldine Anne Ferraro, who paved the way for aspiring women leaders and politicians across the Nation and the world to reach the highest positions of power.

Geraldine dedicated her life to defending women's and children's rights and helping the less fortunate, whether in public service, as an attorney, as a Congresswoman, or as Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Her career was a turning point for women in politics, and an inspiration for women everywhere.

In the early 1950s, when women were not expected to attend college, Geraldine was already breaking through the ``glass ceiling.'' The daughter of Italian immigrants, she worked her way through college and in 1956 became the first woman in her family to receive a college degree. In 1960, she graduated with honors from law school, where she was one of only 2 women in her graduating class of 179 students. She became a strong advocate for abused women and for the poor while serving as assistant district attorney for Queens County, NY, where she headed a new bureau that prosecuted sex crimes, child abuse, and domestic violence.

Her passion to change America for the better took her all the way to the U.S. Congress, where she fought for equal pay, pensions, and retirement plans for women. She was also a leader on environmental issues. In 1984, she led passage of a Superfund renewal bill and called for improvements in the handling of environmental site cleanups.

Geraldine will be remembered not only as a pioneer for women's and children's rights but for human rights around the world. As the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geraldine supported the Commission's decision to condemn anti-Semitism as a human rights violation. And in 1995, she led the U.S. delegation in the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

But what Geraldine will forever be remembered for is that she made possible what was previously unthinkable, that a woman could be a candidate for Vice President of the United States. When former Vice President and Presidential candidate Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate in 1984, she became the only Italian American to be a major-party national nominee as well as the first woman.

In 1984, Geraldine fought a tough race, venturing into unchartered territory and blazing a trail. Even though Geraldine lost that race, she went where no woman had ever been before, teaching us that ``when women run, women win.''

A tireless champion for women in the political arena, Geraldine helped women politicians gain a stronger voice and run for public office. It is because of Geraldine that women today, including myself, can go even farther than before. Generations of female politicians will forever stand on her shoulders.