It’s been read, written and said countless times in the last few days: Hillary Clinton is the first woman to claim a major party’s presidential nomination.
But why that “major” qualifier?
No woman has been this close to the Oval Office before, right?
HOW MANY WOMEN HAVE RUN FOR PRESIDENT BEFORE?
According to Smithsonian historians, the number exceeds 200, a list that comprises nominees of many minor parties, and includes candidates who ran for president before women won the right to vote in 1920.
The list includes recent names like Jill Stein, this year’s Green Party candidate who ran under the same label in 2012; Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972; then-Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Republican candidate in 2012; and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, a Democratic hopeful in 2004.
A women’s rights crusader in the latter half of the 19th century, Victoria Woodhull is generally cited as the first woman to seek the presidency as the nominee of a political party.
But Woodhull’s place in history comes with its own caveat.
Woodhull announced her candidacy publicly in an April 2, 1870, letter to the New York Herald. As recorded by Smithsonian Magazine, she wrote that she expected “more ridicule than enthusiasm” but “what may appear absurd today will assume a serious aspect tomorrow.”
She went on to win the 1872 nomination of the Equal Rights Party (one of several organizations to claim that name in the era). But the Equal Rights Party didn’t achieve ballot access in any state in 1872, so there are no recorded votes for Woohdull.
Further, she still would have been shy of 35 years old on Inauguration Day, making her ineligible to serve.
IF NOT WOODHULL, THEN WHO?
A decade after Woodhull, suffragist Belva Ann Lockwood twice ran with the nomination of the National Equal Rights Part in 1884 and 1888.
Her May 20, 1917, obituary in The New York Times described her as “the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court, a pioneer in the woman suffrage movement, and the only woman who was ever a candidate for President of the United States.”
Most tallies of the popular vote do not list Lockwood, though various historians record her as having garnered about 4,100 votes across six states that allowed her name on the ballot in 1884.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR CLINTON’S ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Woodhull’s story has proliferated in recent weeks on social media, often circulated by conservatives — or perhaps aggrieved Bernie Sanders backers — seeking to cast doubt on Clinton’s place in history.
It’s certainly a reminder that vocal, even if small minor party movements have helped shape American politics and policy.
But let’s be clear: The U.S. government has long revolved around a two-party system. The last time a third-party or independent presidential candidate garnered a single Electoral College vote was George Wallace in 1968, and he was the former governor of Alabama, elected as a Democrat. Not even Ross Perot managed an electoral vote in 1992 or 1996, despite millions of popular votes.
No, presidents come from the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. And for the first time, one of those two great, enduring organizations has chosen a woman as its standard-bearer.
Surely Victoria Woodhull and Belva Ann Lockwood would agree on the historic nature of such an occasion.
Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .