Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential pick for a major political party, died Saturday in Boston from complications of a type of blood cancer, according to her family. She was 75.
Ferraro was Democrat Walter Mondale's vice presidential pick in 1984, a selection that helped shatter a glass ceiling in American politics and cleared the way for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Republican Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination in 2008.
Though Mondale and Ferraro lost the election to Ronald Reagan, Ferraro's place in history as the first woman on a national ticket garnered the gutsy New Yorker from humble origins tribute from her former political rivals.
(WATCH: Vice presidential debate, Oct. 11, 1984.)
Despite the gulf between their political views, Palin quickly put out a statement praising the one woman who had come before her on the vice presidential trail.
"When I had the honor of working alongside Geraldine on election night last year, we both discussed the role of women in politics and our excited expectation that someday that final glass ceiling would be shattered by the election of a woman president," Palin posted on her Facebook page.
“She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more.”
Former President George H.W. Bush, the vice presidential candidate who squared-off against Ferraro in 1984, warmly remembered Ferraro.
"Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn of Gerry’s passing. Though we were one-time political opponents, I am happy to say Gerry and I became friends in time — a friendship marked by respect and affection,” said Bush.
“We will all miss her,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a statement. “We came to Congress at the same time and I had great admiration when she was when picked to be the first woman Vice Presidential candidate for a major party."
Mondale and Ferraro lost badly to Reagan and running mate George H.W. Bush, with the Republicans gaining 49 of 50 states. Still, Ferraro's selection as running mate was meant to energize the ticket, and at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco Ferraro received an 8-minute ovation when she was introduced.
"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."
Ferraro was regularly questioned on the trail about her ability as a woman to protect the nation in the midst of the Cold War.
“I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country,” said Ferraro on the campaign trail in 1984, when asked by a reporter if she could use nuclear weapons.
In a statement, President Obama said his daughters, Sasha and Malia, would grow up in a “more equal America,” thanks to Ferraro.
“Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America's founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all,” Obama said in the statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Ferraro tough, brilliant and never afraid to stand up for what she believed. “She put the first cracks in America's political glass ceiling,’’ said Clinton, who in 2008 spoke of 18 million more ceiling cracks — the number of votes Clinton received that year in her attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who became the longest-serving woman in Senate history this year, called Ferraro a “powerhouse” who made an “indelible mark on our nation’s history.” Mikulski and Ferraro shared a home in the Washington, D.C., area during their earlier years on Capitol Hill.
“I came to Congress two years before Gerry. There were only 17 women in Congress at the time…We became friends. We were the early birds. We weren’t afraid to ruffle feathers,” said the lengthy statement from Mikulski.
Mikulski said Ferraro’s family background, particularly the early death of her father, made her the strong, humble woman who was ready for the challenge of being the first woman on a national party ticket.
“To understand Geraldine Ferraro, you had to understand where she came from. Both of our parents owned small neighborhood shops…Gerry really felt the premature death of her dad. But she said it also made her tough,” said Mikulski’s statement.
“Gerry was grounded in family and faith. She believed in hard work, sticking together, and going to school and church. And never forgetting where you came from…Even after Gerry married John Zaccaro, she remained a ‘Ferraro’ in honor of her mother.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who served as the first female Speaker of the House, said Ferraro was an inspiration to women to “reach their own greatness as they strengthened our country.”
"In 1984, her nomination was greeted with thunderous applause in the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The drumbeat that Geraldine Ferraro began that day in July will continue for a long time to come,” Pelosi said in a statement.
"Her service in the House is a source of pride to all of us in Congress…As a woman and Italian American, my family and I loved her dearly and will miss her personally.”
Ferraro was first elected to Congress in 1978, where she represented Queens, N.Y., for three terms and held a leadership position in the Democratic caucus, until she ran on the national ticket in 1984.
She began her professional life as a public school teacher and later decided to go to law school at Fordham. She was an assistant district attorney in Queens before she was elected to Congress. After the 1984 campaign, from 1988 to 1992, she was a fellow at Harvard. From 1993 until 1996, she served as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. From 1996 to 1998, she was a co-host on the CNN political show, Crossfire.
Ferraro’s ran her last campaign against Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a 1998 Democratic Senate primary. Ferraro lost to Schumer by over 25 percentage points, in a campaign the New York Times editorial board said Ferraro had “trouble charging up.” Schumer went on to beat New York Republican Sen. Al D’Amato, by ten points.
Ferraro joined the law firm Blank Rome in 2007 where she counseled clients on public policy.
In a 1984 vice presidential debate, Ferraro was closely questioned about her pro-abortion stance. While Ferraro said she would not get an abortion herself, she could not require others to follow her religious views.
“I did not come to my position on abortion very lightly. I am a devout Catholic,” said Ferraro. “But I cannot impose my religious views on someone else.”
Ferraro said she would resign her position if she could not reconcile her religious views with public office.
Her position garnered her the praise of pro-abortion groups, who mourned her passing.
“Geraldine Ferraro was a huge part of EMILY’s List from the beginning – from before the beginning, when our founders helped work to secure her nomination,” said a statement from Emily’s List Chair Ellen Malcolm.
"We’ll miss her, and continue to think about her with every new woman who runs.”
In a statement Ferraro's family remembered her as "fighter for justice."
"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," the family said in a statement.