Women on the Air: Geraldine Ferraro visits Minnesota

U of M Radio on your Historic Dial

By Rebecca Toov

Minnesota Daily headline, "Ferraro speaks at U to stress importance of women's issues," March 15, 1985.
Minnesota Daily headline, “Ferraro speaks at U to stress importance of women’s issues,” March 15, 1985.

Season 3: Episode 3. Women on the Air: Geraldine Ferraro visits Minnesota

You are listening to U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial Podcast. Welcome to Season 3: Episode 3. Hello, this is Rebecca from University Archives.  After a brief hiatus, we are back in 2019 to share more historic broadcasts from the University of Minnesota radio station KUOM. For this episode, we will continue our Season 3 theme of “Women on the Air” with the subject of women in politics.  As of the date of this recording, 14 people have publicly announced their candidacies to seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election. Among the prospects, so far, are a record number of women – six in total – to include an author, a current member of the House of Representatives, and four sitting U.S. Senators.  

In U.S. history, only one woman has ever been nominated as a major party candidate for president – Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee in 2016.  Two other women in our country’s history were nominated as vice presidential candidates: Sarah Palin in 2008, and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. Ultimately, none of these women were elected.

Minnesota Daily headline "Mondale makes history by picking Ferraro," July 13, 1984.
Minnesota Daily headline “Mondale makes history by picking Ferraro,” July 13, 1984.

Though many months of campaigning remain before Democrats make their nominations official at the July 2020 party convention, candidates are already dining in Iowa, shaking hands in New Hampshire, and articulating their visions for the future of the country. Before we speculate about the possibility of another woman securing a major party nomination for president, vice president – or both – in 2020, let’s look back and listen to “the first.”

On July 12, 1984, at the Minnesota State Capitol, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale – Minnesota’s former U.S. Senator, and U.S. Vice President in the Carter administration – made a major announcement.  Mondale revealed that he would recommend Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate and candidate for the vice presidential nomination. At the Democratic National Convention held in San Francisco the following week, Mondale and Ferraro secured the party votes, and Ferraro became the first woman ever to be nominated to a major party presidential ticket.

Breaking ground in politics, however, does not ensure a path to victory. I won’t go into it here, but listeners can review on their own the factors that lead to voters eventually selecting the incumbent Republican candidates over the Democratic challengers on election day.  On November 6, 1984, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush prevailed in a landslide victory. In the Electoral College, in addition to the District of Columbia, Mondale and Ferraro were victorious in only one state – Minnesota.

Four months after the election, on March 14, 1985, Geraldine Ferraro visited Minnesota where she was greeted by a large and receptive audience as the guest speaker for the Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, sponsored by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.  Interest was so great that after full capacity was reached in Northrop Auditorium, accommodations were made for a screening at Williams Arena across campus. The speech was also broadcast live on radio stations throughout the Twin Cities, to include University of Minnesota station KUOM.

KUOM program log for Thursday, March 14, 1985. The Geraldine Ferraro talk was a live remote from Northrop Auditorium with producer, Andy Marlow.
KUOM program log for Thursday, March 14, 1985. The Geraldine Ferraro talk was a live remote from Northrop Auditorium with producer, Andy Marlow.
Audio reel with tape identification card for the March 14, 1985 talk given by Geraldine Ferraro.
Audio reel with tape identification card for the March 14, 1985 talk given by Geraldine Ferraro.

As we listen-in to a clip from the recording of this historic broadcast, we will hear introductions from University President Kenneth Keller and Dean Harlan Cleveland.  Following their remarks, Ferraro reflected on her historic nomination and moments from the 1984 campaign. She also commented about prospects for women in politics and discussed key issues that she believed would impact the future of the country. KUOM producer Andy Marlow introduced the proceedings…

 

Broadcast transcript

Andy Marlow: Thank you,  David and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Northrop Auditorium. We have pretty much a packed house here standing by for the beginning of this Carlson lecture by the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. We’ll be hearing first from Kenneth Keller, the newly elected President of the University of Minnesota. He’ll be providing some opening remarks from the podium, then an introduction of Ms. Ferraro, her talk, and a question and answer session. Mr. Keller now at the podium, we’re about ready to begin, he’s getting, uh, a rather healthy round of applause…

[audience applause]

And now, President Kenneth Keller…

Kenneth Keller: Good afternoon. It’s commonplace to say that our speaker today needs no introduction, but I’m afraid that I do. [laugh]

[audience laughter]

My name is Ken Keller, and as President of the University of Minnesota, it’s my privilege…

[audience applause]

Thank you, thank you. It’s my privilege to welcome all of you to this, the 14th presentation in the Carlson Distinguished Lecture Series. This afternoon’s program is sponsored by the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and is funded through the generosity of Mr. Curt Carlson, a long-term friend of both Hubert Humphrey and the University of Minnesota. The purpose of the Carlson lecture series is to provide, uh, provoke, discussion and debate on important issues of our times by listening to views of leading national and international figures. Clearly, in Geraldine Ferraro, we have one of the most prominent, as well as provocative, leaders on the political landscape.

[audience applause]

Ms. Ferraro’s selection as the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee was acclaimed as an historic choice. Her subsequent election efforts won her the reputation of being a staunch campaigner, a skilled artist at repartee, and a hell of a fighter at a press conference.

[audience laughter, applause]

Such attributes lead Time magazine to call her the most refreshing new political figure to arrive on the scene in years. In other words, Geraldine Ferraro is a new, unique, and exciting force in the body politic of this nation. The University of Minnesota considers itself fortunate to have her in attendance today and we extend a sincere welcome to her…

[audience applause]

Now that constitutes the introduction to the introduction. To present a more complete profile of our distinguished guest, let me turn to the Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Mr. Harlan Cleveland.

[audience applause]

Harlan Cleveland: Thank you, Ken. You’ve just heard from the once and future President of the University of Minnesota.

[audience laughter]

Those of us who have worked closely with him are especially qualified to rejoice in his selection. Intellectual brilliance, social sensitivity, and a sense of humor are seldom available in the same package. We’re lucky that Ken Keller was lured to Minnesota a generation ago by the nation’s outstanding chemical engineering department and lucky again that the Board of Regents has persuaded this talented colleague to stay in Minnesota as President of the state’s flagship University. Your spontaneous reaction to his presence here today is ample evidence that his extraordinary quality is widely recognized in this community. And with this communities backing, the University can, as he has said, be one of the world’s best. On this, his first public appearance since the Board of Regents invited him to stick around, let’s celebrate our new President with a rousing Minnesota welcome.

[audience applause]

A word about procedure here. As you know, we have a very large additional audience over in Williams Arena, there is no hockey game going on. But, um, several thousand people over there also. And we also have a live television audience. I’m glad to say that Gerry Ferraro has volunteered to go over to Williams Arena after the press conference which will be held right here on the Northrop Stage immediately after these proceedings. Questions are being phoned over from Williams and also gathered by ushers here in Northrop and conveyed to me by the Humphrey Institute staff and I will throw them at Gerry Ferraro.

Your presence in such numbers today is almost introduction enough, but as a working professor, I owe you a minute of philosophy… Truth… truth, I have discovered, with some difficulty, comes in small paradoxical packages. So what I’m going to tell you about Geraldine Ferraro must be true, because she’s a wonderful study in paradox. She comes from an immigrant family in a land of immigrants. But, new arrivals get stacked at the bottom. In less than half a century she has risen close to the top. She’s a brainy liberal so they say, yet she somehow was elected, and twice re-elected to Congress from a New York City district in Queens that is supposed to be the intellectual home of Archie Bunker.

[audience laughter]

The comparatively young are seldom historic and the historic seldom young. Hardly any of us manage to be both young and historic, but that’s what Geraldine Ferraro was last fall. She was a tough district attorney, so they say, yet she made a gracious candidate, self-confident but never shrill, a feisty political warrior who kept her cool in the most difficult press conference of the decade. In the debate with George Bush, she also kept her cool under some provocation…

[audience applause]

Personally, my favorite moment of the campaign last fall was her retort courteous, “Don’t patronize me.”

[audience applause]

It’s 65 years since women achieved the vote in this country. Not because it was handed to them on a platter, but because they insisted on it. We’ve all been witness in recent months to another breakthrough in the long, tortuous road from a man’s world to equality of the sexes. The symbol and substance of this massive change in American culture and American politics is our welcome guest today. Four times in four months in 1984, she was on the cover of Time magazine, because, as Time’s Editor in Chief explained, and Ken Keller has also mentioned, she was regarded as the most refreshing new political figure to arrive on the scene in many years. And with Fritz Mondale in retirement and Hubert Humphrey no longer among us, we Minnesotans are mightily in need of refreshment.

[audience applause]

A rousing welcome then for Geraldine Ferraro.

[audience applause]

Geraldine Ferraro: [speaking over applause] Thank you.

[Referring to a drink on the stage] It’s not Pepsi,  but it’ll have to do.

[audience laughter]

Thank you Dean Cleveland for that very kind introduction, and thank you, President Keller, for allowing me to visit here at the University of Minnesota. I am delighted to be back in Minnesota. You have to understand, after last November, I’m partial to Minnesotans…

[audience laughter, applause]

I’m deeply honored to be at this Institute as well Dr. Nelson, named for one of the great, truly great Americans of our time. As an American, I considered Hubert Humphrey a friend of mine even though I personally did not know him. But for all of his public life, because he cared so much about this country… and that care was reflected in his goals and his achievements on behalf of us all. His death was a tragic loss for this country. He had so much more to give. And I’m proud to be speaking at an Institute named for him. I’m also aware that today I follow in the footsteps of one who 4 years ago came here to speak after his own unsuccessful race for Vice President, a man to whom, I, women, and everyone who cares about social justice, owes a debt of gratitude. My friend and yours, Walter Mondale.

[audience applause]

The only thing I hope is that when you keep this precedent going of asking a losing vice presidential candidate to speak to this group… that you invite a member of the other party next time.

[audience laughter, applause]

Though my topic this afternoon is “Reflections of the Past and Prospects for the Future,” since this is women’s history month, I’d also like to during the course of my comments to speak to you on the progress we have made and what remains yet to be done. I don’t want to make a partisan speech. Nor do I wish to dwell on the ‘84 campaign, but let me just say that Walter Mondale did more for equal opportunity in a single day than this administration has done in 4 long years.

[audience applause]

When he asked me to be his running mate, he took down a sign that had said “Men Only” in front of the door to politics. And that was a lasting achievement in the history of this nation. On the night of November 6, I conceded the election to Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush. I had no choice.

[audience laughter]

But on another level, I must say that I don’t really believe that we lost in 1984, for our ticket was truly a breakthrough. We opened a door that will never again be closed, and that is something that women in my party can be proud of for years to come. That breakthrough was the result of hard work by many individuals. First, the ground was laid by thousands of feminists who launched the modern women’s movement in the early 1970s. Soon people were talking about the importance of electing women to public office. And then in the beginning of 1984, some people even began talking about putting a woman on the ticket. But all along, ultimately we all knew that the decision lay in the hands of whomever was going to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic party in 1984. Luckily enough the nominee turned out to be someone who was a committed feminist. Walter Mondale had been a defender of equal opportunity for all his life… Well, you know him, you elected him your Attorney General, United States Senator, you know that he’s fought for civil rights, fair housing, medical care for the elderly. He joined every fight for social justice for more than 20 years. He was always one to take a chance for something that he believed in, and in 1984 he took yet another chance, probably the most daring of his career, when he named me to be his running mate. Instantly, that decision touched a nerve in our country. I for one received tens of thousands of letters almost overnight from people congratulating me and wishing me well. One theme common to many of the letters was the feeling of surprise they felt. People had not expected to be so moved by the nomination of a woman for vice presidential candidate, but much to their surprise, millions of American were. One woman wrote me a letter on the night I was nominated. She’s a young mother of twins, and she wrote the following, quote, “ I ran into the bedroom to see if the twins were still awake so that I could tell them.  They are four years old and took the news casually…”

[audience laughter]

“… since they don’t know yet that this is a historic first. It seems more to me than I’ve ever expressed that the childhood lessons they learn will include your name,” end quote. During my acceptance speech at the national convention, I was surprised to see usually hard-bitten reporters with tears in their eyes. People who had previously never been involved in campaigns all of the sudden were drawn into politics for the first time in ‘84. We had a fundraiser in California… and I had the most hard-bitten fundraiser on my staff and she said to me, “You know Gerry, for the first time in my life I didn’t want to take the checks.” And why? Because it was a fundraiser where lots of waitresses who were making $6… who were making about $85, or $100, or $185 a week in tips and low salaries were there contributing $65, which they really couldn’t afford. They couldn’t afford the money but they were determined to contribute anyhow because they had found in our ticket new hope for all American women. One day I was telling a story here in the Twin Cities about a woman who had come up to me and said, “You know, I’m 80 years old, and I thought I’d never live to see this day.” And as I was telling the story and as I was leaving the hotel I was stopped by an elderly woman, gray-haired woman, leaning on a walker who went…

[audience laughter]

“You people are tough.”

So I walked over to her, and she said, “You know that story about the 80-year old woman?” And I said, yes… and she said, “Well, I’m 91, and I thought I’d never live to see this day…”

[audience laughter]

Now I knew that all those people and many more were not moved just by Geraldine Ferraro but by the breakthrough we had made with a woman on the ticket. A lot of women could have done what I did. But I was lucky, I had the chance to stand in front of millions of American women and together, I think we did a pretty good job. Above all, people were proud that their country had finally taken down this enormous barrier and declared the equality of all Americans. And not just equality… we were declaring that the tyranny of expectations is over. Women can be whatever we want to be.

[audience applause]

We can walk in space and help our children take their first steps. We can be corporate executives and wives and mothers. We can be doctors and also bake cookies with our 6-year-old future scientists… or we can choose to be none of those things. We don’t have to be “superwomen.” For the first 14 years of my married life, I worked at home as a mother and wife. It was a fine profession. And then I decided to work outside the home and that was also the right decision for me. Not every woman would agree with the decisions I’ve made, but the point is, they were my decisions. I made them for myself, and women should take pride in whatever we decide to do. Whatever we choose to do, we want to be judged by the quality of our products. We are not women doing men’s jobs, we are women doing work. This is a new age for American women. It’s easy to forget that only 20 years ago, equal pay for equal work was not the law in the United States. Only 12 years ago, there was no law guaranteeing women’s right to compete in school athletics. Only 10 years ago, a woman was not entitled to credit in her own name. And only one year ago, the pension rights of women were routinely violated until the Congress enacted a law I wrote, and President Reagan signed – without I should add without inviting me to the signing ceremony.

[audience laughter]

I can almost forgive him, he did it at the Republican National Convention.

[audience laughter]

We’re making great progress on the question of equal rights, but there’s much more to be done. Above all I see two areas where we need to concentrate in the next few years. First, we need to step up our participation in politics. Remember that Eleanor Roosevelt was 36 when she cast her first vote. What a waste. She should have never been imbarred from choosing public officials, she should have been one. Today there are thousands of talented women who should be in politics but are not, and it’s our job to bring them in, especially younger women. The 1984 campaign itself awakened some women to the possibilities of politics and I was very pleased to read that the Women’s Campaign Fund had just done – no, it wasn’t – it was the National Women’s Political Caucus – had just done a poll and the poll indicated that 27% of the people interviewed said that as a result of the November ‘84 elections, they were now more likely to vote for a woman candidate running for some other office. Seven percent said they would be less likely but of course we won’t pay attention to those people. And the interesting statistic I think is that 64% said that it makes no difference at all to them. That’s interesting because what it does is it points out that at long last we may be removing gender as a disability from being an issue in elections. During the campaign, I must say it was funny, someone told me that she was riding on an airplane and she heard a woman behind her say, “You know, I’m not very political. I don’t vote the party, I vote the woman.”

[audience laughter, applause]

We’re making headway. We have two very good governors, Madeleine Kunin and Martha Layne Collins, but, after all, there are 50 states, aren’t there? In 1986 we want to see more women in politics, more women voting, and more women elected to office than ever before. That’s the best thing we can do for women. It’ll be pretty good for the men too. Second, we must continue to fight for pay equity. Now when I was in the House I co-chaired hearings along Pat Schroeder of Colorado and Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio, in which we learned that tree trimmers in Denver were paid more than intensive care unit nurses. The dog pound attendants were paid more than child care attendants. Now, I’m not running down any worker, but the fact is that women are paid less because they are women, and that’s wrong. We should pay people for their time, their skills, their experience, and the worth of their labor and not according to whether or not they happen to be male or female, Black, Hispanic, or Asian, or White. I think most men agree. I’m not just speaking to women today. You don’t have to be a woman to be offended by discrimination. You don’t have to be poor to hate poverty. You don’t have to be Black, Hispanic, or Asian, to loathe bigotry. Every American should and most Americans do. Every father is diminished when his daughter is denied a fair chance. Every son is a victim when his mother is denied fair pay. But when we lower barriers, open doors, and free women to reach wherever their dreams will take them, our talents are multiplied and our country is stronger. That’s why that I’ve always said that the cause of women is really the cause of our country and it is one cause that we cannot afford to wage just every two years. It is one that we must wage in our own private lives every day.  Now, each one of us, as we move ahead in our careers, must have the courage to speak up for those left behind. When we are struggling to reach the top, we must have the commitment to helping others starting at the bottom. Especially now, when some people are saying that a conservative mood has overtaken our society. The last thing we need is for women who have reached the top to pull up that ladder and leave their sisters behind.

To be concerned about the future of women in this country is to be concerned about the future of the country. Or as I have often said during the course of the campaign, women’s issues are really America’s issues. And today I am frankly worried about the direction in which our country is going. I am worried that on many issues in politics it is easier to take a short term rather than a long term view, when the long term view is clearly in our nation’s interest. And I say that as a former member of the House of Representatives, a body I truly love, but which unfortunately conditioned you to thinking in two year terms… it’s in Congress, in the White House, in state houses, and by the way – in the voting booth as well. Everywhere we seem all too willing to avoid discomfort in the near term even if we risk greater danger in the long term. There are dozens of ways in which a long term perspective would help us right now to build a better world for our children.  We cannot see acid rain but it is destroying our lakes and forests everyday. We should reduce immediately the pollutants that cause it. Investing in more modern plants and equipment will not bring immediate results, but over several years time, it will increase productivity, and make our industries more competitive. Our country is at peace today, but in the long run arms control is the best hope we have of keeping the world at peace for generations to come. Or, take the deficit. Everyone knows what the deficit does. It is no secret the deficit forces up interest rates and that artificially pushes the dollar up, and that in turn depresses exports and helps imports. The federal deficit hurts trades, trade means jobs, but because cutting the deficit is painful right now… and you’re watching on television just as I am… our government has reached budget gridlock. And when we do muster the courage to cut the deficit it seems we that we usually cut those programs which do the most long term good. For instance, social spending is always the first to go. The fact is, much social spending saves money for taxpayers. Every dollar we spend on the WIC program to feed infants and young mothers saves us three dollars in the long run which we would later spend on Medicaid and other services. Every dollar we spend on science returns $100 to the GNP. Every dollar we spend on urban development action grants leverages about $6 in private capitol which goes to developing our inner cities. And yet many of these valuable programs are slated for huge cuts right now. The Children’s Defense Fund estimates that children will lose 5.2 billion dollars under the fiscal year 1986 budget, and this on top of the $10 million cuts in programs for children and families since 1980. The result of these new cuts, if they are enacted, will be less help for abused and neglected children, less for children with serious emotional disturbances, and less for the prevention of family violence. Now if anyone thinks we’re saving money by allowing malnutrition, family violence, and child abuse to scar the next generation of adults, they’d better think again… because we’re not. And let me add, I am not fond of the idea that we turn our back on hunger and child abuse in order to pay for a defense budget which is already out of control.

[audience applause]

Make no mistake about it… it is the middle class, not just the poor, who save money when we invest in children’s futures. And it is the middle class who will pay more as the result of imprudent cuts. For the middle class will pay for the higher welfare, the higher crime, and the greater medical expenditures that will result from inadequately preparing this generation of youngsters. But that’s not the only way the middle class gets stuck by short-sided policies. The proposed reductions in student aid hit hardest of all at the average American family. Under administration Perlhan’s one proposal would limit student loans to families making less than $32,500, another would limit the total amount of student – that any student could borrow to $4,000 per year, and yet another proposal would restrict work study and grants to students from families making less than $25,000 a year. And I would suspect that many of you are already aware of the proposed cuts by this administration. Parents have already responded to this drastic plan. When asked how they would cope with these cuts most of them said that they would be forced to withdraw their children from school. And others have said that they might be able to continue educating their children, but not at the college of their choice. The effect is clear. This plan would create a two-tiered education system in which students would be divided not according to their skills or their interests, or their achievements, but simply according to how much money they have. This is a very serious threat to education in our country, and to our increasingly open and democratic society. Now I don’t say that just as a Democrat. Republican leaders in Congress have also spoken up against these cuts. I speak as a mother of college-aged children and as a citizen vitaly concerned about the role of education in our nation’s future. But that, and that… is what really lies at stake in the education debate. Not only the well-being of average families, but the strength of our society into the next century. There is no doubt that education is the best investment we can make in our future. Every dollar invested in education returns $6 for the Gross National Product. Every $4 we spend to get students to finish high school returns $7 in public revenues. Education is primarily a local and a state responsibility. But the challenges we face are national. Today in the changing world economy with all the demands placed on our skills, we shouldn’t be cutting math and science instruction in high schools, we should be increasing it. Today with high-interest rates and high tuition costs we shouldn’t be cutting student aid, but enabling every student to afford to go to the college of their choice.

[audience applause]

As a former schoolteacher, I truly believe in the value of education. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have it. An accessible and excellent system of education opens doors to the disadvantaged, and that guarantees fairness. It trains our scientists and engineers and that boosts our economy and our defense. It brings together Americans of every race, religion, and income, and that underpins the stability of our society. In my opinion, all these advantages mean that if we want to assure the long term strength of our country, we should be investing less in the arms race, and much much more in the human race.

[audience applause]

These are the conditions for a better future. And it’s not just up to our political leaders to build them. It’s also up to you. Let me end by speaking now to the students in the audience who are the future of this country. Many of you are on the verge of plunging into fast-paced careers with all the short term bias that it will impose upon you. But you’re not there yet. You’re still at the University, but with time and the academic perspective to think about the long term… don’t count on someone else to tackle the challenges that confront us. If you care about the education you’re receiving, then defend it. If you believe in pay equity, then fight for it. If you’re a feminist, then join the women’s movement, whether at home or at work. And if you believe as I do that the long term needs of our country are not being addressed as they must be, then work through politics and see that they are addressed. After all, at my age, the future I am describing is more yours than mine. I urge you to build it. Thank you very much.

[audience applause] (0:031:30)

End Broadcast Transcript

The full broadcast (01:13:32) includes a question and answer session that follows Ferraro’s prepared remarks. Listen at http://purl.umn.edu/255738

 

About this podcast

The U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial podcast is produced by University Archives and Libraries Communications for your enjoyment. Subscribe or download on iTunes or GooglePlay so you don’t miss another moment of historic Minnesota radio.

Recordings were digitized in 2016 in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

Rebecca Toov is the collections archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives.

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