Salena Zito

Women have had an impact in the voting booth since Lydia Taft cast a ballot in Uxbridge, Mass., on whether the town should spend money on troops in the French and Indian War.

The year was 1756. Taft was allowed to vote on her dead husband’s behalf because of the considerable wealth and land she inherited from him.

Women certainly have made strides since then, says Dr. Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University. “But I think it is important to remember that we've had 55 presidential elections and we've only ever had men as the major party presidential nominees.”

Only two women have been major-party vice-presidential picks: the late Geraldine Ferraro, a New York Democrat and congresswoman, and Sarah Palin, Alaska’s Republican governor.

Over 91 years, women's connection to political parties has been varied.

Early on, they tended to identify with Republicans, who were established in northern and western states and, through the GOP’s progressive wing, promoted abolition, temperance and women's suffrage.

Under President Franklin Roosevelt and his highly visible wife, Eleanor, women – like much of the country – began to identify with Democrats.

During World War II, women entered the workplace and became the backbone of the war effort. After the war, women again realized their collective desire to participate in politics.

The second wave of the women's movement, in the 1960s, raised awareness about the challenges women face at home, in the workplace and in politics.

When men abandoned the Democrats in favor of Ronald Reagan's conservative ideology, the gender gap was born. The notion that political women were liberal was reinforced by Ferraro’s candidacy in 1984 and by 1992’s “Year of the Woman” election, when four women – all Democrats – were elected to the U.S. Senate.

Over the past decade, politics has become more complicated.

President Bill Clinton ended the last century with a high-profile extramarital affair; many women questioned his wife’s judgment for staying with him.

Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, seemed to have tremendous respect for not only his mother, Barbara, and his wife, Laura, but also for political aides such as Karen Hughes and Condi Rice.

When Bush in 2004 nearly split the women's vote (48 percent to 51 percent – and women made up 54 percent of the electorate that year), Brown says, it became clear that women vote not only on women's issues but on security issues.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.