The Democratic National Convention (DNC) has been held every four years since 1832. The convention is typically known for its pomp, with colored balloons and decorated hats, and plenty of cheering and yelling. Speakers from the party convey policy goals and the party officially declares its nominee for president.
With the Covid-19 pandemic necessitating social distancing, the 2020 DNC was designed in the form of shortened online programing. The digital format broke years of party tradition of gathering delegates in large arenas—including near the end of World War II, in 1944, and through the four DNC’s from 1960 through 1972.
Newspaper boys held up headlines noting the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler outside the 1944 Democratic Club before the Democratic National Convention.
LIFE staffers were sent to photograph national party conventions nearly every year they were held. The first major coverage of the Democratic National Convention appeared in the July 29th, 1940 issue. The article, “President Roosevelt Answers a Call to Run for a Third Term,” featured photographs of delegates and reporters at nightclubs where they “sought refuge from (a) dull convention.”
In later issues, LIFE published more color news coverage, so photographs of conventions through the 60’s show lively and patriotic displays of party nomination. The 1960 Democratic National Convention made it as cover news for the July 25th issue. It took place at the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson received the nomination for Vice President, and joined the Democratic ticket with John F. Kennedy.
Supporters of John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National convention, 1960.
Accompanying the glitter and buttons were a group of female supporters for John F. Kennedy known as the “Kennedy Cuties.” The group wore matching pinstripe dresses, conspicuous hats and colorful buttons. They cheered on attendees and danced in a conga line at the airport for Kennedys arrival to the convention.
Presidential nominee John F. Kennedy beside his Vice Presidential nominee Lyndon B. Johnson, Democratic National Convention, Biltmore Hotel, 1960.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, defeating incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. By the fall of 1963 Kennedy and his team were preparing for the upcoming presidential election. Although he didn’t formally announce his candidacy, Kennedy’s motorcade travels and appearances were used to sound out policy themes for another presidential run.
Less than a year after Kennedy’s death, 1964 DNC took place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. President Lyndon B. Johnson, was nominated for a full term and Senator Herbert Humphrey of Massachusetts was nominated for Vice President.
The 1964 Democratic National Convention in Jersey City Boardwalk Hall, New Jersey.
On the last day of the 1964 convention, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy introduced a short film in his brother’s memory. RFK was met with a standing ovation for nearly 20 minutes as the crowd cheered and yelled in adoration for him and his late brother. In addition to the short film, and RFK’s brief tribute, attendees were able to view memorial areas with photographs of President Kennedy.
Robert F. Kennedy on the phone at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Similar to the “Kennedy Cuties” at the 1960 DNC, Johnson had an all female group of supporters called the “Johnson Jersey Girls.” LIFE staff photographer Ralph Crane took photographs of the group dressed in matching dresses and enjoying rides at the Atlantic City boardwalk.
The “Jersey Johnson Girls” riding in a teacup ride at the Atlantic City boardwalk during the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
In the 1964 election Johnson defeated Republican nominee, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, in a landslide. Johnson’s full term as president established several civil rights passages, a “war on poverty,” and increased involvement in the Vietnam war. The increased military presence sparked a strong anti-war movement, which set the stage for the following election, in 1968.
The 1968 DNC was held at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Illinois. Johnson’s popularity rapidly declined due to Vietnam war involvement, and as a result he announced he would not seek re-election. Several democratic candidates competed for the nomination. They included LBJ’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, and George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama.
Delegates holding signs to support Hubert Humphrey at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago.
Hubert Humphrey won the nomination for President, and Edmund Muskie received the nomination for Vice President. The convention discussion revolved around Vietnam war involvement, and civil rights unrest. Riots in hundreds of cities followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that spring.
Antiwar signs at the 1968 Democratic National Convention Democratic, Chicago.
Humphrey lost the 1968 election to Republican Richard Nixon, who promised to restore law and order in rioting cities and provide new leadership in the Vietnam war. Four years later, the 1972 Democratic National Convention took place at the Miami Beach Convention center in Miami Beach, Florida.
The convention nominated Senator George McGovern of South Dakota for President and Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri for Vice President. Eagleton was later dropped from the ticket and replaced by Sargent Shriver of Maryland.
Convention attendee wearing a hat with political buttons at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Humphrey lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a landslide election, but the 1972 DNC implemented new delegate selection reforms. This became the first formal set of party rules for nomination procedure.