In 1916, Americans for the first time elected a woman to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Exactly 100 years later, a woman is for the first time poised to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
On Monday night, Hillary Clinton became the first woman in U.S. history to secure enough delegates to win a major political party’s presidential nomination, according to a report from the Associated Press. Though she has not yet been officially nominated by the Democratic Party, Clinton surpassed the magic number — 2,383 delegates — needed to claim the reward.
Her grand total includes both pledged delegates, which are awarded through the popular vote, and superdelegates, which are party elites who vote however they choose. Most superdelegates have already indicated how they will vote, though that could change at the Democratic National Convention in July.
It is now possible for a woman to get this far.
Clinton’s ascent to the title of “presumptive nominee” is already being disputed by her opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who argues that he can convince a significant number of superdelegates to change their votes at the convention. In a statement issued Monday night, Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs slammed the media for “ignoring the Democratic National Committee’s clear statement that it is wrong to count the votes of superdelegates before they actually vote at the convention this summer.”
“Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination,” Briggs said. “She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.”
Still, it is inarguable that Clinton — who is currently leading Sanders in both pledged delegates and superdelegates — has passed a milestone that no woman in U.S. politics has before. And for some, the importance of the moment cannot be overstated.
“I know in the last few days [Sanders] said he’s going to take the fight all the way to the convention,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “That shouldn’t take away from the fact that [Clinton has] achieved what no female candidate has ever achieved.”
What Happens When You Elect Women, According To ScienceWomen are front and center this election, in part because a woman, Hillary Clinton, is front and center. Online, the…thinkprogress.orgFor Lawless, the moment Clinton passed the delegate threshold to secure the Democratic nomination represented a broadening of political opportunities for American women. Securing enough delegates for a major party’s presidential nomination was one of the few milestones left for women in U.S. politics, an institution still plagued by unequal gender representation, she noted.
“It is now possible for a woman to get this far,” Lawless said. “And that, in a lot of ways, is an important step for new generations of women thinking about their own political ambitions.”
Lawless’ own research has shown that women are far less likely to run for political office in America — not because of family or marital concerns, but because they are less likely to believe they are qualified for a political position. The best way to combat that, her research has shown, is for women to “see themselves reflected in positions of power.”
“It’s possible that having [Clinton secure the nomination] might at least plant the seed for future generations that, hey, this is something that’s attainable,” she said. “The symbolic and role model importance of that cannot be overstated.”
Nancy Sims, who teaches about women in politics at the University of Houston, said she believed the symbolic implications of a woman securing a major party’s presidential nomination could extend beyond inspiring women to achieve higher in public office.
Everyone’s had women in power for many years, and we’re still hoping we get a nominee
“When you have a woman at the top, you’re likely to see other women move up in other ways — more CEOS, for example,” Sims said. “When you see a woman achieve the goal, and if she were to win, it means that it really can happen.”
Sims also said she believes Clinton’s milestone means America is starting to catch up with other countries who have elected female leaders. A 2014 report by the World Economic Forum showed that 63 of 142 nations have had a female head of government at some point in the last 50 years. The United States, of course, was not one of them.
“I have been thinking how long it’s taken, and how far the U.S. is behind other parts of the world, from Asia to Central and South America, to Israel,” Sims said. “Everyone’s had women in power for many years, and we’re still hoping we get a nominee.”