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The all-woman moderating team made history at Thursday’s Democratic debate

Three out of four major players in the debate were women, a historic first.
Three out of four major players in the debate were women, a historic first.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

After more than 30 hours of presidential primary debates, they might be starting to seem routine. But Thursday's Democratic debate was a historic first in one way: Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff became the first moderation team made up entirely of women.

It was also the first presidential debate where women — Ifill, Woodruff, and Hillary Clinton — were the majority on stage, and Sen. Bernie Sanders was the odd one out.

Clinton briefly acknowledged the moment: "We've had like 200 presidential primary debates, and this is the first time there have been a majority of women on the stage," she said. "So we'll take our progress wherever we can find it."

Women have been in the majority at a major political debate once before, in 2008's vice presidential debate, when Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden with Ifill as the sole moderator.

But the first women to moderate a presidential debate, in 1976, weren't even allowed to ask the candidates questions. They just called on them before stepping aside so that male journalists could ask the questions.

It took nearly three more decades for debates to even pass what's known in film as the Bechdel test: two women who have a conversation about something besides a man. That happened in 2007, when Des Moines Register editor Carolyn Washburn moderated the first debate of the 2008 election cycle, with Clinton on the stage.