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Then & Now: Geraldine Ferraro

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Then: Ferraro made headlines as the first woman to be named to a major party ticket.

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Dan Quayle
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Walter Mondale
Geraldine Ferraro

(CNN) -- Geraldine Ferraro, the first and only woman nominated to the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, remains an inspiration to women aspiring to success in all walks of life.

As the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee in 1984, Ferraro had come a long way from her upbringing as the daughter of working-class Italian immigrants.

"I went from being a kid who lost her father [at age 8] and who lived in the South Bronx to almost going in to live in the White House," said Ferraro, who will turn 70 in August and serves as president of the global consulting firm G&L Strategies. "That just tells you what this country is all about."

Fans and admirers often stop Ferraro when she's out in public, to tell her of their own success stories and to thank her for being a role model.

But Ferraro said it wasn't just her work as a woman, but also the opportunities available in the U.S. political system, that made her experience possible.

"All these phenomenal things. I want to focus on the fact that it is not me, personally, so much as it is the campaign and the candidacy, because I do think it made a difference for this country."

Born August 26, 1935, in Newburgh, New York, Ferraro earned a scholarship to Marymount College in Manhattan, where she got her bachelor's degree, then worked as an elementary teacher by day while putting herself through Fordham law school at night.

After receiving her degree in 1960, she practiced law for 13 years while raising her three children with her husband, real estate mogul John Zaccaro, to whom she has been married 45 years. In 1974, she was named assistant district attorney in the Investigations Bureau in Queens, then, a year later, joined the Queens County District Attorney's Office, where she started the Special Victims Bureau, supervising prosecution of sex crimes, child abuse, domestic violence and crimes against the elderly.

Ferraro was elected to Congress in 1978, winning a seat from the 9th Congressional District in Queens, and would be re-elected to two more two-year terms.

During her three terms in the House, she championed the Equal Rights Amendment and sponsored the Women's Economic Equity Act. Her unabashedly liberal voting record frequently put her at odds with the Reagan administration.

Establishing a legacy

Although Ferraro established her name in the House of Representatives, she established her legacy in 1984, when Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate.

She faced harsh criticism and attacks -- both political and personal -- during the campaign and remembers the different set of criteria she endured, a standard to which she feels all women entering the political arena are held. During the campaign, she was dogged by questions about her and her husband's finances and the subsequent investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

"My biggest challenge in the '84 campaign was doing the job so that I didn't let down women," she said. "In many instances because I was the first there were people looking at me and saying, 'I just hope she's able to handle it,' because if I failed, they would fail. It's a lot of pressure. It's pressure that they don't put on a man, obviously. I mean, look at Dan Quayle.

start quoteI believe that in 2008, we are going to see a woman and perhaps women running for their party's nomination.end quote
-- Geraldine Ferraro

"If that had been a woman who had either made his mistakes in the campaign or during the four years of the vice presidency, it would have been a disaster," she continued. "So the pressure is really quite acute, until we get enough women doing the job. It's just a matter of getting the people in there making their voices heard."

Ferraro left public office after the '84 election but returned to the public eye in 1992, when she ran unsuccessfully in the democratic primary for a Senate seat in New York. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed her U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She served until 1996, then became host of CNN's "Crossfire," a political debate show, from 1996 through 1998.

The author of three books, "Ferraro: My Story," "Changing History: Writings on Current Affairs," and "Framing a Life: A Family Memoir," Ferraro said the political arena is one she is no longer interested in entering. She does continue to make occasional appearances as an analyst on FOX News.

She has found a new cause, however, traveling extensively, to lecture on behalf of research funding for multiple myeloma, the second-most-common form of blood cancer after non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Ferraro was diagnosed with the disease in 1998, after an unsuccessful run for Senate.

Although she expressed disappointment that no women have been named to a major party ticket for the presidential nomination since 1984, she said she expects things will change in the near future.

"I believe that in 2008, we are going to see a woman and perhaps women running for their party's nomination," she said. "I expect that we will see Hillary Clinton on [the Democratic] side and [Texas] Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison running for the Republican nomination in 2008, and both of them will have established their bona fides in the United States Senate."

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