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Shirley Chisholm: Unbought, Unbossed, and Unforgotten
A Lesson Plan for Middle and High School Students
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The Anti-Defamation League is pleased to offer a lesson plan that pays tribute to the life and accomplishments of Shirley Chisholm, who passed away at the age of 80 on January 1, 2005. In November 1968, just seven months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress, bringing new hope and renewed strength in the struggle for civil rights. Four days after Dr. King was assassinated, Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation for a commemorative holiday. After the bill became stalled, Representative Shirley Chisholm joined forces with Conyers and resubmitted the measure each subsequent legislative session until the bill was finally passed in 1983.

Shirley ChisholmRationale: The purpose of this lesson is to pay tribute to Shirley Chisholm, an important Civil Rights leader and the first black woman elected to Congress. During this lesson, students will learn about Chisholm's life and career, and explore her thoughts on some of the issues of her time. Students will then examine a speech that Chisholm delivered on the Equal Rights Amendment and conduct research on the Women's Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.


  • Students will learn about the life and accomplishments of an important civil rights leader
  • Students will explore some of the social issues that the U.S. grappled with during the 1960s and 1970s
  • Students will increase their awareness of issues of prejudice and discrimination, and deepen their thinking about responses to bigotry
  • Students will learn about the Equal Rights Amendment and the Women's Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s
National Standards
    • Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy
    • Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society
    • Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity
    • Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life

    • Understands the historical perspective
    • Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
    • Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

    Language Arts
    • Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
    • Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
    • Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Age Range: Middle and High School

Other Materials: chart paper, markers

Time: 45-90 minutes or 2 class periods (if only 1 period is available, skip step 4 in the Procedures section below)

Techniques and Skills: analyzing primary documents/speeches, collecting and analyzing data, connecting past to present, cooperative group work, critical thinking, forming opinions, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, research skills, social action, writing skills

Key Words: bigotry, catalyst, civil rights movement, discrimination, Equal Opportunity, Equal Rights Amendment, inequality, inequity, legislation, marginalized, maverick, minority, oppression, prejudice, racism, sexism, status quo, segregationist, stereotype, Title IX, women's rights movement


1. Place the following sentence on the board:
    "This champion of civil rights from Brooklyn, New York was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968, just seven months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

    Ask students if they can identify the historical figure based on the above clue. If they cannot, provide them with the clues below one at a time until they either name the figure or give up.

  • This member of Congress battled for fifteen years to pass legislation establishing a national holiday to honor Dr. King.
  • This politician was a vocal advocate for children and education, and fought for the rights of women, Native Americans and the poor.
  • This leader spoke out strongly against the Vietnam War during the Nixon administration.
  • She was the first woman to campaign for the Democratic nomination for President.
  • She shocked the country when she paid a hospital visit to rival candidate George C. Wallace-the segregationist from Alabama-after he was wounded in an assassination attempt in 1972.
  • She was the first black woman elected to Congress.
Reveal to students that the historical figure is Shirley Chisholm. Ask if they have heard of her and, if so, to share what they know about her life and accomplishments. Let students know that Shirley Chisholm died at the age of 80 on New Year's Day 2005, and that they will be learning more about her life in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (or Black History Month, Women's History Month, or just because she was an important civil right leader!)

2. Distribute copies of A Brief Biography of Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) to students. This handout can be read as a class, in small groups, or for homework. Questions follow the reading that can be used for discussion and/or given as a written assignment.

3. Divide the class into small groups of 3 to 4 students. Provide each group with one or two quotes from the handout, Shirley Chisholm Quotations. Post some of the following questions on the board and instruct students to discuss them after reading the quote.

  • Discuss your instinctive or "gut" response to the quote.
  • What issues are reflected in the quote that the country was grappling with during Chisholm's time?
  • What was Chisholm's particular stance or take on the issue?
  • Do you agree with her thoughts? What is your opinion on the subject?
  • Is this topic or issue still relevant today? How?

Reconvene as a class and ask for volunteers to share their quote and some of the key ideas that came up in their discussions.

4. Post the following quote on the board (which is not on the quotations handout previously distributed):

"Of my two 'handicaps' being female put more obstacles in my path than being black."

Explain that when Chisholm was elected to office, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had already been passed. "Prejudice on the basis of race," Chisholm said, was "under systematic attack." Point out that discrimination against women, on the other hand, was still enshrined in U.S. law. Ask students to provide examples of such discrimination.

Tell students that, motivated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the achievements of the Black Civil Rights Movement, Chisholm and many feminist leaders of her time pursued a Women's Rights agenda that won important gains for women throughout the 1970s and after. Distribute the handout, Equal Rights for Women, which is the transcript of a speech Shirley Chisholm delivered to the House of Representatives in 1969 introducing the Equal Rights Amendment. Ask for student volunteers to come to the front of the class and to collaboratively render a dramatic reading of the speech. Questions follow the speech that can be used for in-class discussion or for homework.

If time allows, follow up the discussion about Shirley Chisholm and the Equal Rights Amendment with additional lessons and/or individual research on the Women's Rights Movement. Some suggested topics and resources are listed below.
Women's Rights issues to investigate further:
  • Equal Opportunity in Employment and Education
  • Reproductive and abortion rights
  • The right to childcare
  • Battered women's shelters

Accomplishments of the Women's Rights Movement to investigate further:
  • Equal Rights Amendment
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Act
  • Educational Equity Act
  • Title IX
  • 1970 "Strike for Equality" (on 50th anniversary of the 1920 suffrage vote)

Further Resources on Women's Rights:
Further Resources on Shirley Chisholm

Handouts/Supporting Documents:
A Brief Biography of Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
(.pdf format -60 KB -
requires Acrobat Reader
Shirley Chisholm Quotations
(.pdf format -34KB -
requires Acrobat Reader
Equal Rights for Women
(.pdf format -319 KB -
requires Acrobat Reader
Anti-Bias Study Guide
(Secondary Level)
Echoes and Reflections (Holocaust Curriculum)
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE™ Programs and Resources
The Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute
Braun Holocaust Institute
Confronting Anti-Semitism
ADL Online Catalog: Resources for Classroom and Community

 Shirley Chisholm: Unbought, Unbossed, and Unforgotten         ©2005 Anti-Defamation League