The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency

Ellen Fitzpatrick, University of New Hampshire

Victoria Woodhull in 1872, Margaret Chase Smith in 1964, and Shirley Chisolm in 1972 – well before Hillary, for close to a century and a half, these and many other women mounted runs for the U.S. presidency. In this fascinating and timely book, Ellen Fitzpatrick reveals that today’s obstacles and challenges are not very different from the ones ambitious female politicians have faced all along.

In The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency, Fitzpatrick looks at how Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith, and Shirley Chisolm challenged the gender stereotypes of their time as they pursued the Oval Office. Each presidential aspirant proceeded in a unique way, given the realities of party politics and social conflicts in her time. But persistent obstacles and ironies appeared again and again – and, today, Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses them yet again.

During the 2016 New Hampshire primary, The New Yorker and the New York Times featured excerpts from Fitzpatrick’s book about Smith’s 1960s campaign in that state. In interviews with the Harvard Crimson and with National Public Radio in Utah and Minnesota, as well as in OpEds for the Los Angeles Times and CNN, Fitzpatrick connects the vivid history she recounts to the campaigns of current female presidential contendersAnd in a recent episode of No Jargon and in an OpEd for the New York Times, she explains how Hillary Clinton has overcome obstacles that other female presidential candidates could not and now confronts criticism for those very feats.

The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency was recommended as one of the "Great Books in Women's History" and has received critical praise from The Washington Post, PBS News Hour, Times Higher Education, and more.


Ellen Fitzpatrick is a Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire. She has written and taught about many aspects of twentieth-century U.S. history and has explored the impact of today’s politics on our understandings of the past. As a widely admired public commentator, she writes and speaks for public audiences as well as students and fellow scholars.


February 2016