Ferraro died at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was being treated for blood cancer. She died just before 10 a.m., said Amanda Fuchs Miller, a family friend who worked for Ferraro in her 1998 Senate bid and was acting as a spokeswoman for the family.
A three-term congresswoman from the New York City borough of Queens, Ferraro catapulted to national prominence in 1984 when she was chosen by presidential nominee Walter Mondale to join his ticket against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
In the end, Reagan won 49 of 50 states, the largest landslide since Franklin D. Roosevelt's first-re-election over Alf Landon in 1936. But Ferraro had forever sealed her place as trailblazer for women in national politics, laying the path for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's historic presidential bid in 2008 and Republican John McCain's choice of a once obscure Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate that year.
Palin paid tribute to Ferraro on her Facebook page on Saturday.
"She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more," Palin wrote. "May her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women."
For his part, Mondale remembered his former running mate as "a remarkable woman and a dear human being."
"She was a pioneer in our country for justice for women and a more open society. She broke a lot of molds and it's a better country for what she did," Mondale told The Associated Press.
Bush, Ferraro's vice-presidential rival in 1984, praised Ferraro for "the dignified and principled manner she blazed new trails for women in politics." He said that after the 1984 race, "Gerry and I became friends in time — a friendship marked by respect and affection."
The two famously sparred in a nationally televised debate that year where Ferraro accused Bush of a "patronizing attitude" toward her. And Bush's wife, Barbara, said Ferraro was a word that "rhymed with rich."
Ferraro stepped into the national spotlight at the Democratic convention in 1984 after Mondale selected her as his running mate. Delegates in San Francisco erupted in cheers at the first line of her speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.
"My name is Geraldine Ferraro," she declared. "I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us."
Her acceptance speech launched eight minutes of cheers, foot-stamping and tears.
Ferraro sometimes overshadowed Mondale on the campaign trail, often drawing larger crowds and more media attention than the presidential candidate.
But controversy accompanied her acclaim. Frequent, vociferous protests of her favorable view of abortion rights marked the campaign.
Ferraro's run also was beset by ethical questions, first about her campaign finances and tax returns, then about the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro. Ferraro attributed much of the controversy to bias against Italian-Americans.
Mondale said he selected Ferraro as a bold stroke to counter his poor showing in polls against President Reagan and because he felt America lagged far behind other democracies in elevating women to top leadership roles.
"The time had come to eliminate the barriers to women of America and to reap the benefits of drawing talents from all Americans, including women," Mondale said.
In the years after the race, Ferraro told interviewers that she would have not have accepted the nomination had she known how it would focus criticism on her family.
First female VP candidate Ferraro dies at 75
This 2007 picture shows former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during a news conference before a fundraising lunch hosted by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., in Chicago. The first woman to run for U.S. vice president on a major party ticket has died. Geraldine Ferraro was 75. A family friend said Ferraro, who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 1998, died Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital. (Associated Press)