Elaine Marshall stayed quiet, soaking in the moment. Olma Echeverri heard herself let out a “Yes! Finally, finally!” And Julia Buckner started to sob as she thought about her Appalachian great-grandmother, Eva Hutchins, who turned 17 years old in 1920 – the year American women won the right to vote.
On Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton made more history by becoming the first woman ever nominated for president by a major party in the United States, there was jubilation at the Democratic National Convention – including among the North Carolina delegates who helped make it possible.
Marshall, a Clinton delegate who has served as North Carolina’s secretary of state for 20 years, said having a woman at the top of the national ticket means that “instead of just having a voice at the table, this time we were at the head of the table.”
The first North Carolina woman ever elected statewide to a post in the executive branch, Marshall, 70, said that Tuesday “was the day I had waited for for so long – for me, but also for daughters, sisters and granddaughters who have always had the deck stacked against them.”
When the state roll call made Clinton’s nomination official and then again when she appeared live on screen from New York, the celebration – accented by a ceremonial cracking of the glass ceiling – brought a flood of memories of the past and dreams of the future.
Charlotte’s Echeverri, a Clinton delegate and a member of the Democratic National Committee, said she thought about generations to come, including her two granddaughters, 7 and 9.
“They know that a woman is running for president,” she said. “And one asked me, ‘Nana, what if Michelle Obama was also running for president, who would you be for?’ And I said, ‘Gaby, this is Hillary’s time. She is very well-prepared and has a lot of experience in government.’”
All the excitement took Buckner, 43, of Clay County, back to a time when she was 8 and watching TV with her mother. Then-President Ronald Reagan was on the screen.
“I said, ‘We need a woman president,’” Buckner remembered. “And my mother told me: “There weren’t any women presidents.’”
There were women presidential candidates before Clinton. On the Democratic side, then-U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York ran in 1972 and, in 2004; so did then-U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. This year, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina of California was a Republican candidate for the White House. And in 2000, four years after her husband ran and lost, North Carolina native Elizabeth Dole mounted her own campaign.
“It was a wonderful experience for me and a challenging experience,” Dole recently told WJLA, a TV station in Washington, D.C. “But it was something that I hope helped moved the ball a bit.”
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts was in the convention hall at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center when Clinton became the nominee and when she appeared on screen. Roberts waved a sign that read: “America.”
“I don’t know whether it was a glass ceiling or a sticky floor, but we have finally overcome it,” she said of the prejudice that has kept many women in the past from reaching the top rung of the ladder in politics, government and business.
Clinton’s chance to become the country’s 45th president comes at a time, Roberts said, when girls and young women seem more interested in exploring political careers for themselves.
“When I go to speak at an event, the students who linger and want to shake my hand tend to be girls,” she said. “It means a lot to see women in positions of leadership and authority.”
For Aisha Dew of Charlotte, who was the state director of the Bernie Sanders campaign, Tuesday’s history-making day was bittersweet. She saw a woman nominated, but also saw Sanders officially close out his quest for the presidency by calling on the full convention to affirm her nomination.
“I’m glad she’ll be able to change the perception of opportunities,” said Dew, who is in her 30s.