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102-year-old Clinton delegate recalls when women couldn't vote

Jerry Emmett remembers when the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and now she is helping her favorite female politician win the presidential nomination.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Supporter Jerry Emmett holds signs before a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Ariz., March 21, 2016.

On Tuesday night, the Democratic National Convention made history by extending the party's nomination for president to a woman for the first time ever. It was a big, glass-ceiling-shattering moment for Hillary Clinton and for women in general, but perhaps most significant for 102-year-old Geraldine “Jerry” Emmett from Arizona.

Mrs. Emmett is one of the few women alive today born before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. Over the course of her lifetime she went from riding in a horse and buggy to flying on an airplane to the convention in Philadelphia, where she pledged her state’s delegates to Mrs. Clinton.

Emmett's story gives insight into Clinton's appeal during a race in which she has struggled with likability.

“Oh, I never thought I’d see a woman in a presidential election. When I was growing up, women could be teachers, secretaries or nurses – and my mother was snubbed at our church for working at all,” Emmett told the Arizona Republic. “That a woman would have this role in the political process ...” she trails off and shakes her head.

Emmett says she remembers how excited her mother and the other ladies in the town of Gilbert, Ariz., (pop. 450) were to vote for the first time. The attitude was infectious and Emmett could not wait to vote herself.

"I was just was so happy when Arizona gave women the right to vote,'' Emmett told Peter Alexander on NBC Nightly News. "I think I was 8 years old, and we all went out and said 'Hooray!' "

Her first votes were cast for George W. P. Hunt, the first governor of Arizona, and then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

FDR, who adeptly guided the US out of the Great Depression and through World War II, made an impression on Emmett and she has voted Democrat ever since. Part of why she supports the Hillary Clinton campaign, she says, is because the Clintons remind her of the Roosevelts in their team mentality and commitment to international policy and negotiation.

Emmett has admired Mrs. Clinton for her entire career and founded the Hillary Clinton Fan Club back when Bill Clinton was president, she told the Phoenix New Times.

“I knew even then she was the backbone of that outfit. I knew she would eventually be somebody on her own," Emmett told the Arizona Republic.

More than two decades later, Emmett traveled to the DNC as an honorary delegate her best friend Carolyn Warner, a superdelegate also from Arizona. Over their years of friendship, Emmett has worked on all of Warner's campaigns, and Warner has introduced Emmett to Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and, of course, Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of whether Clinton wins the presidency in November, her nomination is a historic moment that will positively impact the future of women in politics. 

Throughout the election season, some have accused Clinton of embodying a trickle down approach to feminism that hinges on her position as wealthy, married, and white while failing to be intersectional or to support the women who really need it. But for women like Emmett – who have personally experienced the struggles of the past juxtaposed with the opportunities of the present, and who can see the political landscape through a wide angle lens – Clinton’s nomination is a much more significant victory.

“When a woman becomes president I’ll be very, very pleased. I will decide that this country is going in the right direction," Emmett told The Arizona Republic. She is optimistic about Clinton’s chances, in fact she already has a dress picked out for the inauguration.

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