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Excerpt & Critical Praise

In THE HIGHEST GLASS CEILING, best-selling historian Ellen Fitzpatrick tells the story of three remarkable women who set their sights on the American presidency.

The Unfavored Daughter: When Margaret Chase Smith Ran in the New Hampshire Primary

Full excerpt as published in The New Yorker

Full excerpt as published in The New Yorker

      In mid-November of 1963, a week before he left for his fateful campaign trip to Dallas, Texas, John F. Kennedy held the last press conference of his Presidency, where he fielded a question about the upcoming 1964 Presidential race. “Would you comment on the possible candidacy of Margaret Chase Smith, and specifically what effect that would have on the New Hampshire primary?” a reporter asked. The question alone provoked merriment among the largely male press corps. The prospect of a female Presidential contender clearly seemed preposterous to many. But Kennedy was prepared. Since August, rumors had swirled that Maine’s three-term Republican senator might enter the Presidential race. In fact, the arch-conservative Dallas Morning News had prominently featured stories in late August and September speculating admiringly about a Smith run. One of those reports asked whether Senator “Margaret Chase Smith, a wide-awake Maine Republican,” might actually “be the sleeper of the 1964 campaign.” Kennedy parried the question gracefully: “I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith in New Hampshire, or as a possible candidate for President.” The gathered reporters laughed heartily. “I think she is very formidable, if that is the appropriate word to use about a very fine lady,” Kennedy continued. “She is a very formidable political figure.”
Read the full excerpt.


Critical Praise for
The Highest Glass Ceiling

“Fitzpatrick’s history is an urgent, crucial contribution..Fitzpatrick’s smartly timed book should remind us not to let whatever history we make just pass us by.”

—Rebecca Traister, The New York Times

“Ellen Fitzpatrick breaks the second-highest glass ceiling: writing a history of political women that reads like a murder mystery while managing to elevate the office of president despite recent electoral buffoonery. It’s a neat trick that kept me turning pages to find out what happened next. Like the politicos whose audacity, gusto and brainpower she admires, Fitzpatrick is that entertaining.”

—Elizabeth Cobbs, Times Higher Education

“March is Women’s History Month, and although the United States has never elected a woman as president, it hasn’t been for lack of trying — at least, that is, on the part of the women running for office. As the historian Ellen Fitzpatrick points out in “The Highest Glass Ceiling"

—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

A Leap Back to the Books We Loved in February

—The Washington Post

“Why has it taken so long for a woman to be taken seriously when she runs for President of the United States? There are stories to be told about that and Presidential historian Ellen Fitzpatrick does so superbly in The Highest Glass Ceiling. Her account of the women who did, in fact, go for the top job makes for great reading as well as a much-needed filling of important gaps in American political history. This is a terrific book that is chock full of small tidbits that add up to important surprises for anyone who thinks they already know everything about presidential politics.”

—Jim Lehrer, former Executive Editor, PBS News Hour

“Engaging...The Highest Glass Ceiling...implicitly questions the assumption that any rational woman could seriously believe that the White House was hers for the asking, by telling the entertaining, if ultimately depressing, stories of some women in the past who have failed.”

—Sarah Churchwell, New Statesman

“In The Highest Glass Ceiling historian Ellen Fitzpatrick tells the compelling stories of three women who preceded Clinton's quest....Fitzpatrick is a worthy biographer, offering a rich, amply footnoted story of these quick-witted and resilient women. In a world where women were expected to demur, they lived large - and paid the price. One finishes the book believing that they wouldn't have had it any other way.”

—Connie Schultz, The Washington Post

“Editors' Choice”

—Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review

“Reading The Highest Glass Ceiling . . . makes clear that so little has changed in the national political arena; Clinton is still on the receiving end of incredible levels of sexism, routinely receiving public judgments that would never be leveled at a male candidate. However, like her predecessors Woodhull, Chase Smith, and Chisholm, she has also remained fairly unswayed. Perhaps we will someday get to a point where the level of strength and conviction exhibited by these women won’t be requisite for women candidates for president. For the past century and a half, though, the fire, resilience, and determination that marked all of these women’s political lives have remained much needed. And, I might add, they do make for a great story.”

—Gwendolyn Beetham, Inside Higher Ed

“Just in time for Super Tuesday primaries, a lucid and informative look at three women who made serious bids for the presidency.”

Literary Hub

“Women’s quest for the U.S. presidency has been long and arduous—and Ellen Fitzpatrick, a superb scholar and writer, is the perfect author for this fascinating and overdue history. This book is a triumph, and an inspiration.”

—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University

“Ellen Fitzpatrick’s wise and winning The Highest Glass Ceiling is destined to become the Profiles in Courage of the 2016 Presidential election, situating this year’s presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in a historic field of bold female contenders, with special focus on the three who previously came closest—Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Chase Smith, and Shirley Chisholm. What enabled these women to ‘step out of context and into history,’ as a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote of Smith, to ‘shake it up, make it change,’ as Chisholm aimed to do? Fitzpatrick’s compelling portraits supply not just the how and when, but also the why, teaching valuable lessons that everyone who cares about American Presidential politics will be grateful to learn.”

—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

“Disrupting the Old Boys Network: Is Hillary Clinton Too Establishment to Become the First Female President?”

—Susan Milligan, US News and World Report