Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of History and Women's Studies Julie Gallagher was recently invited to the U.S. Postal Service's ceremony honoring famous Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Held at the Brooklyn Borough Hall in Brooklyn, N.Y., the U.S. Postal Service issued the 37th Black Heritage Forever Stamp, featuring an image of Chisholm.
Chisholm is best known for her historic election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 and her 1972 campaign as a Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. presidency. She is the only woman ever to have remained in a presidential primary on a major-party ticket through the national party convention. The first black woman in Congress, Chisholm represented Brooklyn, N.Y. for seven terms from 1969 to 1983.
Gallagher was invited to the postage stamp unveiling ceremony along with several influential political and public figures including U.S. Representatives Charles Rangel, Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clark and Reverend Al Sharpton.
"Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm offered the world a message of justice for poor people, the elderly, children, and for women's, African-Americans', Latinos' and Native Americans' economic, social and political rights," Gallagher explained. "She tried to give voice to those who had been historically disempowered."
The U.S. postal service reached out to Gallagher to serve as an historical consultant for the Chisholm stamp because of the extensive research she has done on Chisholm. Gallagher is the author of numerous articles and the recently published book, "Black Women and Politics in New York City" (University of Illinois Press, 2012).
Her book documents six decades of politically influential black women in New York City, sharing an untold story about the battles that black women fought through the political system for equal rights and justice. She also explains women's significance to the Democratic Party and its policies, bringing the reader historical perspectives that inform our understanding of the United States' political past in important new ways.
"The book traces the evolution of African-American women's engagement with formal political power," Gallagher explained. "Women fought first for the right to vote. Immediately after they secured the franchise, as early as 1919 in New York City, they began running for office. It took decades and many women's failed efforts, but in 1968 Chisholm scored her historic victory."
To write the book, Gallagher visited a number of archives including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, N.Y., which she described as an "absolute treasure trove of archival material."
It took several years of researching congressional documents, newspapers, periodicals, letters and audio files and conducting interviews to gather all the material needed to tell this story of black women's political advancements over the course of the twentieth century.
Among the many women she wrote about, "[Chisholm] was really an exciting person to research," Gallagher said. "This research is recognizing the significance of women's voice in politics and why it really matters."
"Black Women and Politics in New York City" will be released in paperback form in September 2014.