Hillary almost made history; Golda really did

Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel in 1969.
Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel in 1969.

BY GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ | I thought Hillary Clinton would be elected president of the United

States. She should have been. She is experienced and knowledgeable, but the reason she became famous is that she is married to a previous president.

Golda Meir of Israel took office on March 17, 1969. She was the first woman in human history to head a government who was neither the daughter nor the wife or widow of a previous head of government. Her election was a first-time-in-history event. Nobody knows about her unique status. Nobody thinks of Israel as the country that was the first to be ruled by a woman who was not related to a previous ruler.

Or maybe she wasn’t the first. Was Tannu Tuva a country? Tannu Tuva became independent in 1921 but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944. It was located between Mongolia and the U.S.S.R. Its two neighbors were the only countries that ever recognized it as a separate nation. Tannu Tuva elected a woman, Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, as its president in June 1944. However, in October of that year, Tannu Tuva lost its independence. It is now part of Russia.

I have always known about Tannu Tuva. When I was a little child (I was born in 1937) there was a great big map of the world on the wall of the foyer of our family apartment in Brooklyn. Tannu Tuva was on the map, and so I always knew it was there. I have been reading about it, and I learned that its language, Tuvan, is Turkic but is heavily influenced by Mongolian. It was traditionally written in the Mongolian alphabet, which in my opinion is the most beautiful of alphabets.

Nowadays, alas, Tuvan is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is logical, since what used to be Tannu Tuva is now part of Russia.

Prime ministers are heads of government who are chosen by the parliaments of their countries. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon was the first woman to hold this position. She took office on July 21, 1960, a few months after her husband, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike, was assassinated in 1959. Sirimavo Bandaranaike deserves recognition as the first female prime minister of an independent state. She was a first lady before that, just like Hillary Clinton.

The second woman head of government of an independent country was Indira Gandhi of India. Gandhi was her married name; her maiden name was Nehru. She was the only daughter of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. She ruled from 1966 to 1977 and then was elected again in 1980. She never was a first lady, but as the daughter of Prime Minister Nehru, she inherited his connections to the government, making her analogous to being a princess.

The third woman head of government of an independent country was Golda Meir of Israel. She was the third to hold that office, but the first who was neither a first lady nor a princess.

In some countries, the head of government is the prime minister; in others, it is the president. Iceland and the United States are countries that elect presidents. Iceland elected a woman, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, to be its president in 1980. Was Iceland the first? That depends on whether you believe that Tannu Tuva was a country.

If Hillary Clinton was elected president of America, she would have been the president of a country that everybody thinks about, unlike Iceland, which does not get into the news, and Tannu Tuva, whose existence was basically unknown. It would have been an important step for women if the U.S. had a woman president, but Hillary Clinton, like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi, is a woman who first became famous because of her husband or father.

As for prime ministers, there have been several women in that position who became famous through their own careers, including Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom and Angela Merkel of Germany. However, Golda Meir was the first.