Last night, Hillary Clinton made history as the first woman to be officially nominated as a presidential candidate by a major American political party. Politics aside, it was a remarkable moment in the history of the United States—especially considering how just a few decades ago, a T-shirt was pulled from a chain store's shelves because it proclaimed that “Someday a woman will be president!”
Back in 1995, during President Bill Clinton's first term, one Walmart in Miami made the national press when it decided to stop selling the T-shirt, Rob Beschizza reports for Boing Boing. Nick Kapur, a professor of Japanese and East Asian history at Rutgers University, originally flagged the story and posted it on his Twitter account, Beschizza writes. As far as political messages go, this one seems pretty innocuous: the plain white T-shirt featured Margaret, a character from the Dennis the Menace comic strip, declaring the line.
The shirt was originally designed by a 70-year-old psychologist named Ann Moliver Ruben. Ruben first made the shirt and sold it to women’s organizations in the Miami area as a way to try and raise young girls’ self-esteem, as the Associated Press reported at the time. Just a few months before the debacle, she approached Walmart about selling the shirt in their stores. That August, a single store in Miramar, Florida picked up 204 shirts—two-thirds of which sold quickly. However, just a few weeks later, Walmart representatives told Ruben that it was pulling the rest of them after a couple of customers complained.
“It was determined the T-shirt was offensive to some people and so the decision was made to pull it from the sales floor,” Walmart spokesperson Jane Bockholt told the AP.
In 1995 Walmart pulled "Someday a woman will be president" T-shirt from shelves, saying it offended "family values." pic.twitter.com/jqqbmZFMCa— Nick Kapur (@nick_kapur) July 27, 2016
Almost a century ago, women in the United States finally gained the right to vote, and even before that people considered the possibility of a woman becoming president. While it has taken a long time for a woman to win a major party’s nomination, Gallup has polled American citizens on whether they would support a female presidential candidate for decades, Elise Foley reports for the Huffington Post. In 1937, a Gallup poll found that only 33 percent of Americans would support a female president, and it wasn’t until 1955 that it would break into a slight majority.
Ruben saw Walmart’s move as a dismal sign for the mobility of active women in politics.
“Promoting females as leaders is still a very threatening concept in this country,” Ruben told the AP at the time. “They are in the position of being a censor. That’s what I don’t like.”
Walmart representatives later apologized for the move, and Ruben’s T-shirt returned to Walmart shelves, The Chicago Tribune reported at the time.
The world has changed in the past two decades—just a few years after the T-shirt debacle, a 1999 Gallup poll found that more than 90 percent of Americans would support a woman as president. Though Clinton lost her 2008 run for the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, in her concession speech she thanked her supporters for putting 18 million cracks in the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”
“And if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next,” Clinton said in a televised speech last night.
Whatever happens come November, it's hard to imagine a T-shirt with a similar message facing such a challenge today.