Geraldine Ferraro, the former congresswoman who in 1984 strode onto a San Francisco podium to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president and take her place in U.S. history as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party, died Saturday in Boston. She was 75.
The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had battled for 12 years, her family said in a statement.
"If we can do this, we can do anything," Ferraro declared on a July evening to a cheering Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. And for a moment, for the Democratic Party and an untold number of American women, anything seemed possible: a woman occupying the second-highest office in the land, a derailing of the Republican juggernaut led by President Ronald Reagan, a President Walter Mondale.
It did not turn out that way -- not by a long shot. After the roars in the Moscone Center had subsided and a fitful general election campaign had run its course, hopes for Mondale and his plain-speaking, barrier-breaking running mate were buried in a Reagan landslide. But Ferraro's supporters proclaimed a victory of sorts nonetheless: 64 years after women won the right to vote, a woman had removed the "men only" sign from the White House door.
It would be another 24 years before another woman from a major party was nominated for vice president -- Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican running mate of Sen. John McCain in 2008. And though Hillary Rodham Clinton came close to winning the Democratic presidential nomination that year, a woman has yet to occupy the Oval Office. But Ferraro's ascendance gave many women heart.
President Barack Obama on Saturday said in a statement, "Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life."
As Mondale's surprise choice, Ferraro rocketed to national prominence, propelled by fervid feminist support, a spirited and sometimes saucy personality, canny political skills and the calculation by Democratic strategists that Reagan might be vulnerable on issues thought to be more important to women. Instead, the campaign was hounded by a barrage of questions about her family finances and the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro -- often carrying insinuations about ties to organized crime -- that not only blemished Ferraro's stature as the first Italian-American national candidate but also diverted attention from other issues.
Brought up by a single mother who had crocheted beads on wedding dresses to send her daughter to good schools, Ferraro had waited until her own children were school age before going to work in a Queens, N.Y., district attorney's office headed by a cousin.
Geraldine Anne Ferraro was born on Aug. 26, 1935, in the Hudson River city of Newburgh, N.Y., where she was the fourth child and only daughter of Dominick Ferraro, an Italian immigrant who owned a restaurant and a five-and-dime store, and the former Antonetta Corrieri. One brother died shortly after birth, and another, Gerard, died in an automobile accident two years before Geraldine was born.