Libertarian Party

Tonie Nathan, R.I.P. (The First Woman to Receive an Electoral Vote for Vice President)

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Theodora "Tonie" Nathan, the woman who was the vice presidential candidate for the first Libertarian Party ticket in 1972 (underneath philosopher John Hospers, who was a gay man), has died at age 91, the Libertarian Party reports.

Libertarian Party

It is a shame that her historical status for the advancement of woman's role in what had been entirely a man's world has been little noted or long remembered, mostly I suspect because the Libertarian Party is not much respected by institutional feminism (though it should be).

In an example of the charmingly ramshackle quality of the L.P. as it launched, as I wrote in my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, Nathan, then a "TV producer from Oregon with a left-liberal and then (after being converted by her son, home from the navy with a fresh yen for Rand) Objectivist background, showed up to cover the convention. Because of some well-phrased comments from the floor during debates over the platform and statement of principles that impressed the rest of the delegation, she left as a candidate for vice president of the United States."

Although only on the ballot in two states, the Hospers-Nathan ticket won the vote of renegade Republican elector Roger MacBride of Virginia (who went on to be the next presidential candidate for the L.P.)

As I wrote in Radicals:

MacBride has alerted the media beforehand of his intentions, under a strict embargo. For the first time in its history, the room where Virginia's electors met was flooded with klieg lights as most of the electors passed in their preprinted ballots with Nixon's name on them. MacBride crossed out the president's name and wrote in Hospers's. When the vote count for vice president was announced, Theodora Nathan…had become, to the puzzled man reading the results, "Theodore"…..

But she was not Theodore; she was Theodora Nathan, and she was the first woman to receive an electoral vote for vice president. Also, as the L.P. notes, the first Jewish person to receive an electoral vote for vice president.

The very idea might have seemed crazy in 1972; but she and L.P. were pioneers in opening space for new ideas and new types of people in American politics. What would have seemed unthinkable to a "respectable" Party then was a no-brainer for the pioneers of radical libertarianism in American partisan politics.

Nathan stayed active in the L.P. the rest of her life, running for many elective offices and holding Party offices, and announced Gary Johnson as the Party's presidential nominee from the convention floor in 2012.

She was as helpful and encouraging as she could be to me when I interviewed her for Radicals, and I personally appreciate her efforts on behalf of libertarian ideas in politics as well as her personal kindnesses.