This past week, the world lost two trailblazers; far too few of us will remember and celebrate the lives of these revolutionaries. Though they worked in separate spheres, Elizabeth Taylor and Geraldine Ferraro spent much of the late 20th century paving the way for future female leaders. In the world of theatre, Mrs. Taylor showcased a talent, bravado, elegance and longevity — 60 years and 70 different titles — that remain unmatched. Mrs. Ferraro highlighted that same bravado and success in politics, serving as Walter Mondale’s running mate in the 1984 presidential election and becoming the first woman to appear on a national ticket. While their collective accomplishments are immense, it is easy for many today to overlook the importance of Mrs. Taylor’s and Mrs. Ferraro’s tremendous careers.
A woman of many roles, husbands, and styles, Elizabeth Taylor spent decades lighting up the silver screen. Starring in smash feature films like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Cleopatra” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” Taylor ended her career as one of the most storied actresses in American history. Garnering two Best Actress Academy Awards, she is one of only 11 women to win the coveted Oscar more than once. Taylor lived her life in the public eye, appearing in her first movie when she was only nine.
She presaged and heralded the modern celebrity: Her private life was in the public eye; her love life, volatile, tempestuous, and laden with controversy. Married eight separate times to seven different men, Taylor puts modern day heartbreakers like Angelina Jolie and Jessica Simpson to shame. She caused internecine strife in the celebrity world, famously breaking up the marriage of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, only to marry Mr. Fisher shortly thereafter. She married socialites, actors, producers, and even politicians, never staying put for more than six years.
While Taylor wasn’t one to stick to the same man, she never had trouble committing herself fully to a cause. Over a 30-year career as an activist, Mrs. Taylor fought for Israel and against AIDS with the same vigor that she brought to her acting. Taylor raised over $100 million for the global fight against AIDS, raising awareness during a time when the general public was still largely apathetic to the global epidemic. Taylor converted from Christianity to Judaism when she was 27 years old, and fought fiercely for Israeli causes. She even followed Kaballah (sound familiar?). Mrs. Taylor’s expansive career was anything but forgettable; it is important that we remember that.
Like Elizabeth Taylor, Geraldine Ferraro broke ground for women in a field and an era where they had previously made little progress. Just 64 years after women won the right to vote, Mrs. Ferraro was pulled from her congressional seat in Queens, and thrust onto a full-fledged national campaign. A former district attorney, Mrs. Ferraro was a tough Democrat who refused to back down, even as she faced pressure for her beliefs, religion or gender. Though history shows that the Ferraro legacy may have ultimately hurt the Mondale campaign — her finances led to national ignominy, and a crushing defeat to President Ronald Reagan — her candidacy led the way for women to run for positions at all levels of our federal government. Her nomination set the stage for Sarah Palin, Hilary Clinton and even Nancy Pelosi. As these political powerhouses continue to make cracks in the so-called glass ceiling, we must remember Mrs. Ferraro for helping to expose and gaze through that ceiling in the first place. Her life, and especially her accomplishments, must not be forgotten.
In 1984, when Ferraro received the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential Nomination, she spoke to the hopeful San Fransisco crowd, offering an auspicious denouement: “If we can do this, then we can do anything.” Though both Elizabeth Taylor and Geraldine Ferraro are no longer with us, their legacy lives on. It lives on in our celebrated actresses and 92 female members of Congress. Most importantly, it lives on in the female youth, who — thanks to women like Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Ferraro — believe rightly that they, too, can accomplish anything.
Joel Sircus is a freshman in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.