Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm died on January 1, 2005 at the age of 80; she was an American politician, educator, and author.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on November 30, 1924 to immigrant parents from the Caribbean region, she had three younger sisters.
Their father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guyana and arrived in the United States via Antilla, Cuba, on April 10, 1923, aboard the S.S. Munamar in New York City.
Their mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Christ Church, Barbados, and arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Pocone on March 8, 1921.
At age three, Shirley was sent to Barbados to live with her maternal grandmother, Emaline Seale, in Christ Church, where she attended the Vauxhall Primary School.
Her mother believed it would provide a stronger education than American schools. She did not return to the United States until May 19, 1934, aboard the S.S. Narissa in New York. As a result, Shirley spoke with a recognizable West Indian accent throughout her life.
In her 1970 autobiography Unbought and Unbossed, she wrote: “Years later I would know what an important gift my parents had given me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados.
If I speak and write easily now, that early education is the main reason.” Chisholm was assigned to the House Agricultural Committee.
Given her urban district, she felt the placement was irrelevant to her constituents. When Chisholm confided to Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson that she was upset and insulted by her assignment, Schneerson suggested that she use the surplus food to help the poor and hungry.
Chisholm subsequently met Robert Dole, and worked to expand the food stamp program. She later played a critical role in the creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
Chisholm would credit Schneerson for the fact that so many “poor babies [now] have milk and poor children have food.” Chisholm was then also placed on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as House Majority Leader over John Conyers. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee, which was her preferred committee.
She was the third highest-ranking member of this committee when she retired from Congress.
Chisholm went on to make history yet again, becoming the first major-party African-American candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1972.
A champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm was also a vocal opponent of the U.S. military draft.
After leaving Congress in 1983, she taught at Mount Holyoke College and was popular on the lecture circuit.
Chisholm was married to Conrad Chisholm from 1949 to 1977. She wed Arthur Hardwick Jr. in 1986.
She authored two books during her lifetime, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973).