One of the really puzzling phenomena, for example, has been the habitual reference to Clinton’s run as “the first serious campaign for president by a woman.” That is how I heard it described on a cable news program half an hour ago. Chances are, a similar formulation is being used by someone in media-land right this very second. It is hopelessly ahistorical, yet now practically inescapable.In her examination of press coverage between 1872 and 2004, Falk finds that this pattern – what she calls “the novelty frame” – has recurred time and again. The important exception, it seems, was the one time when it was literally true. While reporters were amused and/or appalled by Victoria Woodhull, they evidently never took her bid seriously enough to consider it a real campaign.
Each subsequent woman running for president, however, has been portrayed as an anomaly — someone making an experiment untried ever before. And so when Margaret Chase Smith sought the Republican nomination in 1964, a newspaper columnist wrote that she enjoyed “the distinction of having been the first woman in the country to bid for [the presidential] office.” (Actually she was at least the third.) Eight years later, Shirley Chisholm became, as another reporter put it, “the first black woman to seek a major-party nomination.”
In 1987, when Pat Schroeder began her campaign, commentators had to stretch a bit: “If Schroeder gets into the race,” went one account, “she will be the first woman to seek a major party presidential campaign since 1972.” And now, a two decades later, it seems that Hillary Clinton, too, is boldly going where only men have gone before.