Women around Philadelphia relish Clinton's historic win

A supporter in New York celebrates Hillary Clinton’s achievement. “First time since 1789 — that’s a long time,” said Rita Conley of North Wales.

Hillary Clinton has been a part of national life for so long, known to haters and admirers alike by first name alone, that it was almost easy to overlook the monumental nature of her impending accomplishment.

Not anymore. After voters Tuesday cemented her status as the first woman to clinch the presidential nomination of a major political party, millions of women reveled in Hillary's historic moment.

They let their young daughters stay up late to watch on TV, felt a certain catch in their throat, and perhaps, like Clinton herself, wished their own mothers had been alive to witness it.

"First time since 1789 - that's a long time," said Rita Conley, 75, a former Democratic committeewoman, who lives in North Wales, Montgomery County. She has been a fan since Clinton was first lady in the 1990s.

"I'm just thrilled," Conley said. "We've been hoping and working for a long time, and, you know, Hillary's been working for other women for a very long time."

The victory seemed to resonate especially with women of Clinton's own generation of feminists, who grew up believing they could do anything - and still found the doors to the Oval Office barred.

"I'm so proud of Hillary Clinton, for all that she has put up with to get the glass ceiling broken," said Toni Ketrick, 54, of Cherry Hill, at a watch party held by the Clinton campaign Tuesday. "This is huge; this is her time."

Mary Wilson, 73, and Andrea Williams, 54, sharing a lunch table Wednesday at Reading Terminal Market, talked religion, family, and Hillary.

"I say, give us women a try - just see how it works out," said Wilson, a grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of nine from Collingswood.

Both women are African American, and Williams said it would be amazing if the first woman president followed the first black president.

"No matter who is in the office, God is in control, but I like her; she has some kind of respect, some kind of dignity," said Williams, also a mother and grandmother, and a phlebotomist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Not everybody is thrilled with Clinton. While she ranks high in polls of the most admired women in the world, she begins the general election campaign with the highest negative rating of any Democratic nominee ever.

Paula Sbarbaro, a flight attendant in Philadelphia on a layover, said she was all for progress - but not for Clinton.

"Our country is certainly overdue for a woman; I'm just not sure it's Hillary," said Sbarbaro, 62, of Chicago.

She says she plans to vote for Republican Donald Trump - begrudgingly. She doesn't like some of the sexist things he has said, but she favors his style.

"I'm a Republican, but I'd like to give him a good slap upside the head because, you know, that mouth . . . ," she said, "but . . . I think this country needs to be woken up."

In Clinton's first run for president, in 2008, her history-making potential was overshadowed by the excitement over the possibility of electing the first black president. She did not talk about the historic nature of her candidacy much then - until she lost.

"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," Clinton said in 2008. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

Eight years later, almost to the day, Clinton acknowledged a debt as she took a big step closer to breaking the barrier.

"Tonight's victory is not about one person," she said. "It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible."

Clinton's success to this point owes much to Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president in 1872 as a protest candidate, before women even had the right to vote, and to Shirley Chisholm, a black member of the House from New York City who sought the 1972 Democratic nomination.

"They began the disruption of gender norms, chipping away at the expectation through our history that to be a president was to be a man - and until 2008, a white man," said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers-Camden who has studied gender in U.S. politics.

Some might dismiss Clinton's achievement because she is married to a previous president, but Dittmar said that is facile.

"Her relationship to Bill Clinton has also brought big drawbacks," Dittmar said. "Her own work ethic and successes still prove for most folks beyond a reasonable doubt that she is qualified."

Helen Gym, the first Asian American woman to be elected to City Council, said her mother was born in South Korea in 1934, before women got the right to vote there.

"It's tremendous for my immigrant mother, who wasn't allowed to vote, to see now her oldest granddaughter able to vote for the first female president," Gym said. "It says a lot about what this country needs and where we're trying to go."

When State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D., Delaware), 39, was younger, she said, she never "remembered thinking that a woman president was possible."

"I didn't aspire to run for office until I was in my mid-30s," said Krueger-Braneky, elected in 2015 in a special election. "Could that have been influenced by the fact that I didn't have a lot of female role models? Possibly."

Krueger-Braneky's 4-year-old son is surprised a woman has never been president, she said. He thinks the office should alternate between a man and a woman.

"We joke that men will look in the mirror in the morning and see a governor, while women don't think that way - yet," Dittmar said.

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718@tomfitzgerald

www.inquirer.com/bigtent

Staff writers Erin Serpico and Caitlin McCabe contributed to this article.

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