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Pulling This T-Shirt Put Walmart on the Wrong Side of History

21 years ago, the retail giant briefly pulled a t-shirt touting the possibility of a female President off its shelves.

For all the nostalgia, the '90s were a weird time. Vanilla Ice was a thing. In 1992, the Vice President picked a fight with a fictional character and lost. And three years later, Walmart decided that a t-shirt telling little girls to dream big was "a threat to family values."

Wait, what?

Yes, back in 1995 a Walmart customer saw a t-shirt emblazoned with the Dennis the Menace character Margaret Wade and the words "Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!" and found the idea of a strong, empowered woman in a leadership position so offensive, he complained. And the store listened.

The Florida Walmart store pulled nearly 100 of the shirts off their shelves and cancelled any plans order for more. The t-shirt's creator, a then-70-year-old psychologist named Ann Ruben, designed it with an eye towards promoting young girls' self esteem. At the time, she told the Associated Press that she felt Walmart's decision smelled like censorship and conveyed the message "that promoting females as leaders is still a very threatening concept in this country."

Even looking past the terrible message that little girls with aspirations are dangerous, the entire situation played out horribly for Walmart. First, the decision was made to pull a product after a single complaint. Then, after enormous public backlash, the company caved on its decision and placed an order for 30,000 of the t-shirts to be sold in Walmarts nationwide, which could be viewed either as weak vacillation or a cynical cash grab.

The story continues to be a bit of an embarrassment for Walmart—one that is growing by the day after the recent Democratic National Convention. This week, the company released a statement to CNN that read, "Wow, it still pains us that we made this mistake 20 years ago. We're proud of the fact that our country—and our company—has made so much progress in advancing women in the workplace, and in society."

For the most part, Ruben brushed the controversy off and has remained perennially upbeat. When she met the 1996 First Lady Hillary Clinton on the FLOTUS's book tour, Ruben was wearing the t-shirt and Clinton hugged her. Then, when Clinton's first granddaughter was born in 2014, Ruben mailed Clinton a t-shirt of her own. She got a letter back for that one, thanking her for the "adorable shirt."

Ruben, now 91, lives in Pittsburgh and is happy that "someday" could very soon.

"I'm thrilled that we have a legitimate candidate, a wonderful woman running for president," she told CNN. "It's like a miracle."

Ruben made an updated version of the shirt, which she sold to a few friends and family. She also has a Twitter account with 8 followers. She doesn't update much—the last of her 222 tweets was in March of 2015—but she is happy that her little t-shirt was able to bring some attention to the issue of women's equality and thankful for the chance to see its sentiment realized.

Chad Taylor

Chad Taylor is a freelance writer based out of Des Moines. He spends his days writing about music, movies, sports and pop culture.

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