The first woman to receive an electoral vote in a presidential election wasn’t Geraldine Ferraro, the vice president pick of Walter Mondale in 1984; and it won’t be Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 2016.
That honor in fact belongs to University of Oregon alumna Tonie Nathan, BA ’71, the vice presidential choice of the Libertarian Party in 1972, who received her vote while Clinton was working on her juris doctor at Yale and Ferraro was working part time as a lawyer in Queens.
Theodora “Tonie” Nathan was born February 9, 1923, in New York City, and moved to Los Angeles at a young age. It was in Los Angeles where she met her husband, Charles “Chuck” Nathan, and the couple had three sons: Paul, Larry, and Greg. Tonie operated her own insurance agency, and ran an interior decorating company and a music publishing company with her husband in Hacienda Heights, California. She sang with bands in night clubs, and wrote songs, sang with, and marketed Chuck, a musician and composer.
The Nathans retired in 1968 and moved to Eugene, though Tonie did not sit idle for long and became a radio and TV producer while hosting a daily talk show on KVAL-TV.
Tonie’s passion for education led her to enroll at the University of Oregon, where, at the age of 42 and standing just four feet, ten inches tall, she played for the UO volleyball team. While working on her journalism degree she also became involved in politics on campus, paving the way for what happened the year following her graduation in 1971.
Degree in hand, Tonie—a former Democrat with a devout belief in America’s founding values of freedom, justice, and liberty—became involved in creating a political party with principles based on individualism and capitalism. A charter member of the Libertarian party, Tonie Nathan soon became the party’s vice chair.
“Through networking with people, she wound up as a delegate for Oregon through the Libertarian convention,” said Greg, BM ’77, who inherited his parents’ musical talents and performs with the Eugene Symphony. “After arriving there and interacting with other delegates of the party, they all just liked her. She had no preconceived ideas or ambitions. This was the first convention the party ever had.”
Just one year after earning her journalism degree, Tonie’s passion and deeply rooted beliefs enabled her to earn the trust of fellow Libertarians so much that they nominated her for the vice president spot on John Hospers’ Libertarian presidential ticket.
The 1972 election saw Hospers and Nathan pitted against the Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, and Democrats George McGovern and Robert Shriver, among others. Roger MacBride, a Republican member of Virginia’s Electoral College, was fed up with the direction the GOP was heading and wrote in his vote for Hospers and Nathan instead of Nixon and Agnew.
Only on the ballot in two states, the Hospers-Nathan ticket finished tenth overall in the popular vote, but was the only ticket other than the Republican and Democratic ones to earn an electoral vote. The vote from MacBride—who left the Republican Party briefly and was the Libertarian candidate for president in 1976—represented far more than just one of the 538 electoral votes in 1972 though: it made Tonie Nathan the first woman—and, incidentally, the first Jewish person—in history to earn a vote during a U.S. presidential election.
Tonie believed in individual liberties and the pursuit of knowledge, particularly in regard to women’s rights. In 1973, the year following the historic election, she founded the Association of Libertarian Feminists, a nonpartisan organization grounded in the ideology that women are competent and capable and should be economically and psychologically self-sufficient. Their causes are mostly positioned as unofficial recommendations, though they hold a formal stance in protecting female reproductive rights.
“She was a forward-looking personality and individual regarding equality for women, and their ability to think and accomplish things mentally,” said Greg. “She vehemently shunned the idea that women are dumb.”
Because of her Jewish background, she was particularly sensitive to ethnic and racial persecution, and had a strong belief in civil rights and racial justice. She consistently spoke out against injustice, and fought for racial and gendered equality for the duration of her life.
“She loved stories about heroes, and loved to see the good guy win,” Greg said. “She was sensitive to racial and ethnic persecution, so she took a hard stance in civil rights, particularly when it came to racial injustices towards African Americans.”
Tonie ran for various offices as a Libertarian. In 1980, she ran for senate in Oregon, finishing third behind Bob Packwood and Ted Kulongoski with almost 4 percent of the vote. Ten years later she ran for the House of Representatives in Oregon’s 4th congressional district, and finished second to fellow Duck Peter DeFazio, MS ’77, with 14 percent of the vote.
In 2012, Tonie was one of the inaugural inductees into the Libertarian Party’s Hall of Liberty, recognizing her significant contributions to the party. She was also the honorary speaker at that year’s Libertarian National Convention, and announced the party’s presidential nominee, Gary Johnson.
Tonie Nathan passed away in 2014 at the age of 91, and in her honor, the National Organization of Libertarian Women established the Tonie Nathan Award for Excellence in Libertarian Feminism.
“She was pro-knowledge, interested in everything,” said Greg. “She loved discussing ideas.
“She wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. She would jump all over people if they were wrong. She loved intellectual activity and was passionate about freedom.”
- by UO student Mina Naderpoor