Chisholm, Shirley, 1924-2005

Alternative names
Birth 1924-11-30
Death 2005-01-01
English, English

Biographical notes:

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (1924-2005) activist, educator, politician and author was born in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of four girls. She lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn with her factory worker father, Charles (originally from British Guyana) and her seamstress and domestic worker mom, Ruby Seale (who came from Barbados). Between 1927 and 1934, Chisholm was sent to live with her grandmother, Emaline Seale, in Christ Church, Barbados. Chisholm attended local school, received her B.A. in sociology at Brooklyn College and earned an M.A. in early childhood education from Columbia University (1952). At Brooklyn College, one of Shirley's professors, blind science professor Louis Warsoff, "became interested in me...I loved formal debating. Once Prof. Warsoff said You ought to go into politics." Her response, "Proffy, I'm black and I'm a woman." Since blacks were not welcome in social clubs, she formed a sorority just for black women and named it Ipothia ("In pursuit of the highest in all"). From 1953-1959, Chisholm was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center and from 1959-1964, she was educational consultant for the Division of Day Care in New York City. Chisholm was active in the day care division of the city's Bureau of Child Welfare as well as the Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League and League of Women Voters. Chisholm's political interests grew and by 1964, she won a seat in the New York State Assembly . In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to Congress by defeating the Republican candidate James Farmer. In 1977, she joined the powerful House Rules Committee. During her tenure in Congress, Chisholm worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents, supported spending increases for education, healthcare and other social services, was involved in children's needs, and opposed the war in Vietnam. She fought for women's rights, native Americans, Haitian refugees, migrant farm workers and for minimun wage for domestic workers. One of her great achievements was passage of the SEEK (Search for Excellence Education and Knoweledge) Program, which enabled CUNY to admit a more diverse urban population. In 1972, Chisholm became the first woman to campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. She said her "campaign was a catalyst for change" and ran "in spite of hopeless demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo." She retired from Congress in 1982 after serving seven terms. Chisholm wrote her autobiography Unbought and Unbossed (1970) which was turned into a documentary that aired on public television. It chronicled her 1972 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and was directed and produced by the independent black woman filmmaker Shola Lynch. The film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and won a Peabody Award. In 1984, she helped found the National Political Congress of Black Women and authored her second book, The Good Fight (1973) Chisholm was a member of the National Organization for Women, was one of the founding members of the National Women's Political Caucus, founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and helped co-found the National Political Congress of Black Women. She became the Purington Chair at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, where she taught for four years. Married twice (to Conrad Chisholm and Arthur Hardwick, Jr.) Chisholm moved to Florida in 1991. She died at the age of eighty on January 1, 2005 at her home in Ormond Beach, Florida. "I'd like to be known as a catalyst for change, a woman who had the determination and perseverance to fight on behalf of the female population and the black population, because I'm a product of both, being black and a woman. I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts ..."


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  • African Americans--Social conditions
  • Education, higher
  • Women politicians
  • Families
  • African American women
  • African Americans--Education (Higher)
  • African Americans
  • Medical care
  • Minorities--Employment
  • Social justice
  • Housing
  • Women's rights
  • Education and state
  • Families, Black
  • Presidential candidates
  • Hunger
  • Community development, Urban
  • African Americans--Politics and government
  • Racism
  • Drug abuse
  • African Americans--Medical care
  • Social participation
  • Legislators
  • African Americans--Education
  • African American leadership
  • African Americans--Economic conditions
  • Affirmative action programs
  • African American youth
  • African Americans--Civil rights


  • Legislators
  • College teachers
  • Feminists


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)