Marie Wilson, who founded the White House Project in 1998, commissioned a survey of women who could lead the country. She sought a diverse group of women from the corporate world and the military in addition to politics, and she included the first black female astronaut, Mae Jamison. “We couldn’t get permission from Oprah—we tried,” she told The Daily Beast. The results were featured on the cover of Parade magazine in 1999. Some of Wilson’s colleagues in the women’s movement warned that she would embarrass these women by touting them for president. Why? “Because people will think they’re ambitious,” she was told.

For the record, none of the women were embarrassed, and several prominent figures who did not make the list called Wilson to ask why they weren’t included. “They were not amused,” she says.

This is a dance that’s been going on with the American people for some time, and what’s made the difference is Hillary Clinton. “These last four years have sealed the deal,” says Wilson. There’s credit to go around, more women on the Supreme Court, more women in top jobs, three female secretaries of State before John Kerry was sworn in this year. Still, it’s the visual image that sticks of Clinton meeting with presidents and prime ministers all around the world, and looking like she belongs. “This is mostly embodied in the person of Hillary Clinton. She frames the discussion,” says Wilson.