Shirley Chisholm was one of four daughters born to parents who emigrated from the West Indies to New York. She was born in 1924. Shirley and her sisters spent much of their early childhoods in Barbados, living with their grandmother.
Shirley attended Brooklyn College, majoring in sociology and participating in debate. She was also active in the Brooklyn chapter of the National Urban League and in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She graduated with honors in 1946.
After she graduated, Shirley had a tough time getting a job that befitted her education, likely due to racism. She worked at a Harlem childcare center and took night classes at Columbia towards a master's degree in child education. She then moved into the administration, becoming the supervisor of New York City's largest nursery school network.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Shirley and her husband became active in politics. In 1960, Shirley started the Unity Democratic Club, an organization to mobilize Black and Hispanic voters. In 1964, Shirley was elected to the New York State General Assembly by a landslide, and so her career as a politician began.
Shirley served as an Assemblyperson for four years before running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968 under the slogan "Fighting Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed". She was the first black woman to be elected to Congress. For her first term, Shirley hired an all-female staff and focused her legislative agenda on civil rights, women's rights, and anti-war activism. She campaigned for higher minimum wage and for federally funded day care. She also co-founded the National Women's Organization (NOW) and the National Women's Political Caucus.
In 1972, Shirley became the first African American woman, and the second woman ever, to run for President of the United States. While she did not win the Democratic nomination, she did get 151 delegate votes. She continued to serve as a Representative for several more terms, retiring in 1982.
After her retirement from Congress, Shirley remained an active political figure and activist, as well as a professor at Mount Holyoke College. She worked on the Reverend Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign, created and chaired the National Political Congress of Black Women, and served as an ambassador to Jamaica.
Shirley died in Florida in 2005. She was 80.