As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to remember the ever-inspiring, Margaret Chase Smith. Smith was born in Skowhegan, Maine in December of 1897. Before her career in politics, Smith worked as a school teacher and on the staff of a local newspaper, The Independent Reporter. She also went on to establish the local chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club in 1922. By 1930, Smith had left the newspaper and married Clyde Smith, businessman and owner of The Independent Reporter. Margaret and Clyde shared a passion for politics and the Republican Party.
Before Clyde was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1936, Margaret served on the Republican State Committee. Once her husband was elected, Margaret became his secretary. Clyde died in 1940, leaving Margaret to assume his role in office. Margaret would go on to serve four terms in the House and become elected into the Senate in 1948, making her the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. During her time in office, Margaret was an advocate for women’s rights, the military, and those who were persecuted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is Margaret’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech of 1950, in which she spoke out against the Senator and his crusade against those he perceived to be linked to Communism, that she is most remembered by. This action taken by Margaret is so revered because this was a time in American history when people were afraid. While they were fearful of Communism, they were also afraid of being accused by McCarthy of having Communist ties and having their livelihoods destroyed. Margaret Chase Smith was the first Senator to speak out in opposition of McCarthy’s, stating,
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism—The right to criticize; The right to hold unpopular beliefs; The right to protest; The right of independent thought. The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know some one who holds unpopular beliefs.
In 1964, Margaret ran in several Republican primaries. The biography offered on the Margaret Chase Smith Library’s website, explains, “[Smith] took her candidacy all the way to the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, where she became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency by either of the two major parties. In the final balloting, Smith refused to withdraw and so wound up coming in second to the Republican nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater.” Before retiring, Smith served four terms in the Senate and thirty-two years in Congress. She died on May 29, 1995, and will forever be remembered as a woman who worked hard to get where she wanted to be and fought for what she believed in. During her time in politics, Smith consistently voted with her conscience, not party politics. She did not let fear or intimidation stop her from doing the right thing.
Margaret Chase Smith is one Fierce Woman in history, and she deserves to be celebrated!