The news that Geraldine Ferraro had died came, fittingly it seemed, at the luncheon of the annual conference of the Michigan Women’s Studies Association. I was there to make a presentation about Elly Peterson, and the Blackberry and Iphone checkers in the room spread the news quickly.
I suspect that Peterson, like many women, was moved by Ferraro’s speech as she accepted the vice presidential nomination at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. But I realized that that was one topic we had never discussed. Nor had I captured any notes from her personal papers about the event. 1982 was the last election in which Peterson played a visible role. By then, she was calling herself an Independent as the Republican Party seemed to be abandoning the issues that had come to be most important to her.
I wondered whether she had felt Ferraro was qualified to be vice president. Eight years earlier, as deputy chairman of the President Ford Committee, she had suggested five names to Ford for a potential running mate, after Vice President Nelson Rockefeller agreed not to seek election.
She said she wanted to see “(1) a man of absolutely un-questionable honesty and integrity (2) a man with whom you and your people can work closely (3) a man who has given a lot of himself to building the Party and a record of achievement (4) a man whose wife would be a credit and a help.” The names she suggested were William Ruckelshaus and Elliott Richardson (both of whom had resigned when told to fire the Watergate special prosecutor), Gov. Robert Ray, Gov. Dan Evans and Sen. Howard Baker.
Ironically, Peterson did not suggest Anne Armstrong, who succeeded her at the Republican National Committee and who was then serving as Ambassador to Great Britain. Armstrong actually made it to Ford’s short list, along with Ruckelshaus and Baker.
To a reporter, Peterson professed “amazement” at the support that delegates expressed for Armstrong in a pre-convention survey, and was still skittish about the prospect of a female vice president. She told the reporter it “could be a very difficult move for the President. I’m not sure the country is ready for it.”
Ultimately, Ford chose Robert Dole instead.