Full Bio

Geraldine Anne Ferraro Zaccaro earned a place in history as the first woman and first Italian-American to run on a major party national ticket, serving as Walter Mondale’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1984 on the Democratic Party ticket.

Ms. Ferraro was born in Newburgh, New York on August 26, 1935 – Women’s Equality Day – to Antonetta Corrieri and Dominick Ferraro.

Though best known for her political achievements, Geraldine Ferraro started her career in public service upon graduation from Marymount Manhattan College in Manhattan in 1952.  She became a second grade school teacher at P.S. 85 in Astoria, Queens, part of the District she would later represent in Congress.

While teaching, Ms. Ferraro earned a law degree from Fordham Law School in 1960.  One of only two women to graduate in a class 0f 179, she recounted that an admissions officer said to her, “I hope you’re serious, Gerry.  You’re taking a man’s place, you know.”  She passed the New York State Bar exam three days before her marriage to John A. Zaccaro, and practiced under the surname Ferraro as a tribute to her mother’s struggles as a widow to raise her.

Ms. Ferraro spent thirteen years at home raising her children, during which time she also practiced law pro bono in Queens County Family Court on behalf of women and children, and served as President of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association.  In 1974, she was sworn in as an Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.  There, she started the Special Victims Bureau, where she supervised the prosecution of sex crimes, child abuse, domestic violence and violent crimes against senior citizens.

Ms. Ferraro was first elected to Congress from New York’s Ninth Congressional District in Queens in 1978, and served three terms in the House of Representatives before being tapped for the Vice Presidential run.  In her second Congressional term, she was elected Secretary (Vice-Chair) of the Democratic Caucus.

Her legislative achievements included creating a flextime program for public employees, which has become the basis of such programs in the private sector.  She also successfully sponsored the Women’s Economic Equality Act, which ended pension discrimination against women, provided job options for displaced homemakers, and enabled homemakers to open IRAs.

From 1988 to 1992, Ms. Ferraro served as a Fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.

In October 1993, she was appointed the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission by President Clinton, and served in that position through 1996.  She was appointed head of the U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna shortly thereafter, and headed the delegation to China for the Fifth World Conference on Women.

From 1996 until 1998, Ms. Ferraro was a co-host of Crossfire, a political interview program, on CNN.

In 1992 and 1998, Ms. Ferraro was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination to the United States Senate.

In February 2007, Ms. Ferraro became a principal in the government relations practice of Blank Rome LLP, where she counseled clients on a wide range of public policy issues.  Prior to joining Blank Rome, Ms. Ferraro chaired the Public Affairs practice of the Global Consulting Group (GCG), a leading international communications firm.

An active participant in the nation’s foreign policy debate, Ms. Ferraro served as a Board member of the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Ms. Ferraro was also a political analyst for FOX News and a columnist for the New York Times Syndicate.

Ms. Ferraro was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.  In 2007, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sons of Italy Foundation and, in 2008, she was the initial recipient of the annual Trailblazer Award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.

Ms. Ferraro authored numerous articles as well as three booksFerraro, My Story, which recounts the ’84 campaign; Geraldine Ferraro: Changing History; and Framing a Life: A Family Memoir.

Ms. Ferraro was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 1998.  She publicly disclosed the illness in June 2001, when she testified in Congressional hearings for passage of the Hematological Cancer Research Investment and Education Act.  In addition to increasing the amount of government funding of blood cancers, the Act created the Geraldine Ferraro Cancer Education Program, which directed the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish an education program for patients of blood cancers and the general public.

From then on, Ms. Ferraro was a frequent speaker on the disease and an avid supporter and honorary board member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  It became a mission of hers to personally speak to every myeloma patient who contacted her, in order to encourage them to advocate for themselves and to have hope, emphasizing that she was living with the disease and not dying from it.

Ms. Ferraro died on Saturday March 26, 2011, of complications from multiple myeloma.

Ms. Ferraro is survived by her husband of fifty years, John A. Zaccaro; her three children and their spouses, Donna Zaccaro Ullman and Paul Ullman, John Zaccaro and Anne Rasmussen Zaccaro, and Laura Zaccaro Lee and Josh Lee; and her eight grandchildren.

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