The importance of Kamala Harris

This is part of our daily newsletter series. Want this in your inbox? Subscribe here.

By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

From Victoria Woodhull in 1872 to Shirley Chisholm in 1972, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (pictured above) joins a line of women who have run for president or vice president of the United States, some even before the ratification of the 19th amendment of the Constitution 100 years ago gave many women the vote.

As the Democratic National Convention begins tonight, Harris will take a spotlight that those women worked hard for the right to get. (Here's a look at political conventions through the years.)

Frustrated by both major political parties for ignoring Black and women’s rights, crusading newspaper publisher Charlotta Bass was the first Black woman to run for vice president in 1952 on the Progressive Party ticket. Bass is one of 11 women that have run for vice president, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

In 1984, Democratic congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman vice presidential candidate from a major political party. That same year, Emma Wong Mar became the first Asian American woman to run for vice president as part of the Peace and Freedom Party. It took 24 more years before Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008 would become the second woman vice presidential candidate from a major political party.

Part of a political legacy borne of struggle, Harris stands on the shoulders of Black women who faced violent opposition such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Fannie Lou Hamer, who was beaten and bruised in the fight for Black women’s rights.

“I don’t think you can understand how we got here in 2020 if you don’t appreciate the way in which Black women have built this moment,” John Hopkins University historian Martha Jones said last week as she pointed to six Black women being considered for the vice presidency.

Jones notes the “grand chorus of thinkers and doers,” women who worked during the past two centuries to make the current moment possible, in her Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. The new book chronicles black women’s political journey from the aforementioned Charlotta Bass (pictured below with running mate Vincent Hallinan and actor-activist Paul Robeson) to today, referring to “roadmaps that legendary women left behind."

View Images

"The American revolution ushered in an anti-Slavery moment in the United States,” Jones wrote. “This war that transformed slaves into soldiers also also promoted revolutionary ideals about equality for all.”

The selection of Harris may indeed be the most historically significant vice presidential pick in U.S. history. She joins the Democratic party ticket as the worst global health crisis in a century shows no sign of relenting and a racial reckoning forces the U.S. to acknowledge the value of Black lives and to confront structural racism. Harris is the first Black woman and first Asian American woman to run on a major party ticket. A woman has never held the position of president or vice president. Harris, the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate, intends to change that.

Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a Black woman to be his running mate, how incredible is that,” Harris told The 19th’s Errin Haines in her first interview after joining the Biden-Harris presidential ticket.

In selecting her, Biden is “breaking one of the most substantial barriers that has existed in our country—and he made that decision with whatever risk that brings,” Harris said.

Do you get this newsletter daily? If not, sign up here or forward to a friend.

Today in a minute

When the U.S. routinely stripped women of their citizenship: For decades, the nation took away citizenship of U.S.-born women if they married an immigrant. The sexist reason at the time: The woman assumes the citizenship of the man. Jayne Orenstein wrote about her great-grandmother, Ida Brown, born in the U.S. in 1898, learning only of her changed status when preparing to be a witness for her husband’s citizenship process. The odious practice, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1915, was outlawed in 1922, two years after women fought successfully to get the right to vote.

No more frat parties on the dig: Archaeologists are trying to stop generations of a cowboy environment on certain field digs. Traditional field schools often foster “the archaeology cowboy mentality … working really hard during the day but playing really hard at night—and drinking a ton,” University of Idaho archaeologist Katrina Eichner tells Science. One NSF study is developing best practices for field schools, and other researchers are rethinking the whole model, which works against students of lesser means. “We don’t have to create the same environment that we didn’t want to be in when we were students,” says Jane Eva Baxter, an archaeologist at DePaul University.

When did U.S. mail-in voting start?
The tradition began more than a century and a half ago, reports Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic, with voting rolls in the battle encampments of the Civil War. Back then, Republicans pushed for the mail-in balloting, and the Democrats objected. Since then, mail-in voting has become accepted and election experts regard it as safe. Nearly one-quarter of 2016 voters cast their ballots by mail.

Related: A brief history of the U.S. Postal Service

Instagram photo of the day

View Images

In exaltation: Emperors once worshipped and tsars were once crowned beneath these resplendent icons of saints at the Assumption Cathedral in Russia’s Kremlin. Photographer Gerd Ludwig captured a Mass at the restored 15th-century cathedral, which is the historic seat of the Russian Orthodox Church and became a museum during the communist era.

Are you one of our 143 million Instagram followers? (If not, follow us now.)

The big takeaway

View Images

Suffering for suffrage: In January 1917, one group of American suffragists decided that newly reelected President Woodrow Wilson had ignored their demands for the vote long enough. It was time for extreme measures. As Tina Cassidy reports for National Geographic’s History Magazine, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, these suffragists launched a silent vigil outside of the White House, where they stood with picket signs and banners of purple, gold, and white—enduring threats of mobs, jail time, and violence—until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919.

In a few words

Did a friend forward this to you?

On Tuesday, George Stone covers travel. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, Rachael Bale on animal news, and Whitney Johnson on photography.

Last glimpse

View Images

Still fighting the power: In a dockside working-class neighborhood in Gdańsk, Dominik Lubecki (above) practices flipping himself over a bench. Forty years ago, dockhands in the Polish port launched one of the first communist-era strikes demanding better working conditions. These strikes birthed the anti-communist Solidarity movement and set the country on the road to reform. For the September issue of National Geographic magazine, Victoria Pope revisits the Polish city—where she had been briefly detained in 1982 while covering the movement as a foreign correspondent—and finds its rebellious spirit is alive and well.

As the current Polish government challenges aspects of the country’s hard-won democracy, Gdańsk has remained a progressive bastion where social movements are welcome, including the Manifa (below), a march that took place this spring to advocate for women’s rights and environmental concerns.

View Images
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Thanks to Janey Adams, Kimberly Pecoraro, and Amy McKeever for their contributions. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.