Margaret Chase Smith, 1897-1995

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Woman Category: Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: Senator

  • HerStory

    The first woman to serve in the US House and the US Senate representing Maine in both, and the first woman candidate for the presidency at a major party’s convention.

    Margaret Chase was born in Skowhegan, Maine, the oldest of six children. To support her parents, she began working at the age of 12 at a local retail store. At high school, in addition to playing as the captain of the school’s girls’ basketball team, she worked as a telephone operator, where she met her future husband, Clyde Smith, a local politician who was 21 years older than her. After graduation, she taught for a short time at a one-room school and coached the girls’ basketball team at her old high school. At the age of 21, she joined the staff of the Independent Reporter magazine, working as a circulation manager. During this time, she became active at the local women organizations, co-founding the Skowhegan chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, serving as the editor of the organizations’ magazine, and later as its president. At 31, she was appointed the treasurer of the New England Waste Process Company while holding a full-time job as an office worker at a local textile mill.
    In 1930, when she is 33 years old, Chase and Clyde Smith got married, and she became more involved in politics. In that year, she was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee, in which she served until she moved to Washington, DC, following her husband’s election to the US House of Representatives. Smith was more than the wife accompanying her husband, she worked as his secretary and speechwriter. In 1940, her husband fell ill, and he asked her to run in his stead in the coming election. After he passed away a few months later, in 1940, she won the special election, becoming the first woman elected to US Congress from Maine. Three months later, she was elected again for a full two-years term, and for the next eight years, she was re-elected three more times. During her service, she developed an interest in military and national security issues, she served on the Naval Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee. She played a key role in the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which enabled women to serve as regular members of the armed forces, not only at war times, as well as giving them rank, privileges, and equal pay. Smith was known as a moderate Republican, braking ranks with her party and supporting President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation.
    In the summer of 1948, Smith announced her candidacy for the US Senate, and when she won the general elections she became the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, as well as the first woman to represent Maine in the US Senate. In Congress, Smith was the first one to criticize Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt. In a fifteen-minute speech, which became known as the “Declaration of Conscience,” she protected citizens’ rights to criticize, to protest, to hold unpopular beliefs, and to have independent thought. Following the speech, McCarthy removed her from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, replacing her with Senator Richard Nixon. Not holding her opinions, she advocated for the use of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, for which she was referred to as “the devil in disguise of a woman” by Nikita Khrushchev.
    In 1964, at the age of 67, Smith announced her candidacy for President of the United States. Although she lost every primary election, she made history by being the first woman in the US to run as a presidential candidate for a major party. Afterward, she channeled her efforts toward Medicare, civil rights, and education funding. She was the first (and to this day the only) woman to chair the Senate Republican Conference, she promoted the foundation of the space program, and served as a charter member of the Senate Aeronautical and Space Committee.
    In 1973, after losing the re-election for her Senate seat, Smith retired from political life. She taught at various colleges as a visiting professor, and returned to Skowhegan, where she supervised the construction of the Margaret Chase Smith Library Center – the first library to focus on the work of a female Member of Congress. Smith passed away at the age of 97.

    “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”

    “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her father was the town barber, and as a child, she used to help him.
    • She was the captain of her high school’s girls’ basketball team.
    • She was known for wearing a single red rose to campaign for the rose to be declared as the official flower of the US, which approved in 1987.
    • Her slogan in her US senate campaign was “Don’t change a record for a promise.”
    • She was the only female civilian to sail on a US Navy ship during World War II.
    • She is the longest-serving Republican woman in the Senate.
    • She is the second longest-serving female Senator in history.
    • In the re-election campaign in 1960, when she ran against the Democrat Lucia Cormier, it was the first time in US history that two women ran against each other for a Senate seat.
    • She was the “mystery celebrity” guest on the TV show “What’s My Line?”
    • Her Declaration of Conscience speech was portrayed by Patricia Neal in the movie Tail Gunner Joe.
    • She was portrayed by Janis Benson in the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
    • The US political action committee for raising awareness and funds to increase the number of conservative women elected to federal public office is named Maggie’s List in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1952)
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1973)
    * The Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989)
    * The Naval Heritage Award by the US Navy Memorial Foundation (1995)

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Senator

    Senator Margaret Chase Smith's Daily Schedule

    Creator(s): Central Intelligence Agency. 12/4/1981- (Most Recent)
    Series: Moving Images Relating to Intelligence and International Relations, 1947 - 1984
    Record Group 263: Records of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1894 - 2002

    Production Date: 1964

    Scope & Content: This film covers the activities of Senator Margaret Chase Smith during a typical day, and includes an interview in which she was asked about running for President.

    Contact(s): National Archives at College Park - Motion Pictures (RDSM), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road
    College Park, MD 20740-6001
    Phone: 301-837-3540, Fax: 301-837-3620, Email:

    National Archives Identifier: 1936821
    Local Identifier: 263.1588

    Online Catalog:

  • Photo credit - LOC