Ferraro was the first woman and first Italian-American to run on a major party national ticket. According to a statement released by her family, she died surrounded by her loved ones after battling multiple myeloma for twelve years. Her family said of the loss:
“Geraldine Anne Ferraro Zaccaro was widely known as a leader, a fighter for justice, and a tireless advocate for those without a voice. To us, she was a wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, a woman devoted to and deeply loved by her family. Her courage and generosity of spirit throughout her life waging battles big and small, public and personal, will never be forgotten and will be sorely missed.”
After first being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, she went on to serve New York’s ninth congressional district for three terms. Ferraro ran as Walter Mondale’s running mate in the 1984 presidential election.
Delegates in San Francisco erupted in cheers at the first line of her speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.
“My name is Geraldine Ferraro,” she declared. “I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.”
Her acceptance speech launched eight minutes of cheers, foot-stamping and tears.
Ferraro sometimes overshadowed Mondale on the campaign trail, often drawing larger crowds and more media attention than the presidential candidate.
“No one asks anymore if women can raise the money, if women can take the heat, if women have the stamina for the toughest political campaigns in this country,” Judy Goldsmith, then-president of the National Organization for Women told People Magazine in December, 1984. “Geraldine Ferraro did them all.”
But controversy accompanied her acclaim. Frequent, vociferous protests of her favorable view of abortion rights marked the campaign.
Ferraro’s run also was beset by ethical questions, first about her campaign finances and tax returns, then about the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro. Ferraro attributed much of the controversy to bias against Italian-Americans.
Mondale said he selected Ferraro as a bold stroke to counter his poor showing in polls against President Reagan and because he felt America lagged far behind other democracies in elevating women to top leadership roles.
“The time had come to eliminate the barriers to women of America and to reap the benefits of drawing talents from all Americans, including women,” Mondale said.
Ferraro joined Mondale’s ticket against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Ultimately, Reagan won 49 of the 50 states, the largest landslide since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first re-election, in 1936 over Alf Landon.
In the years after the race, Ferraro told interviewers that she would have not have accepted the nomination had she known how it would focus criticism on her family.