Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith

Smith, Margaret Chase, 1897-1995, U.S. senator from Maine (1949-73), b. Skowhegan, Maine. She taught school briefly and then worked (1919-28) on the Skowhegan weekly newspaper. In 1930 she married Clyde Smith, the publisher of the paper, and upon his election as a U.S. representative served in Washington as his secretary, researcher, and office manager. Active in Republican party politics, she was elected after the death of her husband in 1940 to finish his unexpired term, becoming Maine's first congresswoman. She was reelected four times. Noted for her integrity and independence, she was elected U.S. senator in 1948 and reelected in 1954, 1960, and 1966. She was unexpectedly defeated in the 1972 election by her Democratic opponent.

See biography by J. Sherman (2000).

Margaret Chase Smith (December 14, 1897May 29, 1995) was a Republican Senator from Maine, and one of the most successful politicians in Maine history. She was the first woman to be elected to both the U.S. House and the Senate, and the first woman from Maine to serve in either. She was also the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency at a major party's convention (1964 Republican Convention, won by Barry Goldwater). She was a moderate Republican, included with those called Rockefeller Republicans. When she left office, Smith had the record as the longest-serving female senator in United States history.

Early life

Margaret Chase was born in Skowhegan, Maine, on December 14, 1897, the daughter of Carrie Murray and George Emery Chase. As a young woman, she taught school at a one-room schoolhouse, worked as a telephone operator, managed circulation for the Skowhegan Independent Reporter, and served as an executive with a local textile mill. She became involved with local women's organizations and helped found the Skowhegan Business and Professional Women's Club. She attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine where she joined Sigma Kappa Sorority. In 1930, she married Clyde Smith, a respected political leader in central Maine. He was elected to the US House of Representatives.

Political career

Chase Smith first won a seat to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 3, 1940 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband. She served on the House Naval Affairs committee during World War II. As co-chair of a subcommittee that investigated problems encountered by the War Department in rapidly establishing bases across the nation, she was instrumental in resolving conflicts between states, local jurisdictions and the military.

Chase Smith was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948. She served in the Senate from 1949 to 1973. In competition with her bid for a third term in 1960, the Democratic Party put up Lucia Cormier, the Democratic floor leader of the Maine House of Representatives. It was the first time two women ran against each other for a Senate seat.

By the end of her fourth term, the charm Chase Smith had had for so many years seemed to evaporate. She was defeated for reelection in 1972 by Democrat Bill Hathaway, the only election she ever lost in the state of Maine. In her last election, Chase Smith had been plagued by rumors of poor health (she had been using a motor scooter around the Senate). A Republican primary challenger taunted her for being out of touch; she did not have a state office operating in Maine. Also, she alienated liberals with her support for the Vietnam War, and alienated some conservatives by voting against Nixon's Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell.

Personal life

Senator Chase Smith had a professional and personal relationship with staff assistant William Lewis, a lawyer from Oklahoma with a Harvard MBA. He had been assigned to work with the House Naval Affairs committee while with the Naval Reserve. His political and legal savvy combined with his knowledge of military matters augmented her own experience. He remained her political advisor and personal partner until his death in 1982.


Chase Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. In addition, she received the U.S. Air Force's top award, the American Spirit Award, in recognition of her contributions as a "great American patriot". She was also awarded a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Rutgers University, in addition to 93 other honorary degrees.

Republican Conference Chairman

Chase Smith was the first (and as yet only) woman chair of the Senate Republican Conference, 1967–1972.

Opposition to Joseph McCarthy

Chase Smith was an early opponent of Senator Joseph McCarthy. On June 1, 1950, she gave her Declaration of Conscience speech on the floor of the Senate, earning McCarthy's permanent ire and the nickname "Moscow Maggie" from his staff. In 1954, when McCarthy attempted to challenge her seat by sponsoring a primary challenger, the Maine voters rejected the effort.

Popular culture

Senator Chase Smith appeared as the Mystery Guest on a June 1953 episode of What's My Line?

Janis Benson portrayed Senator Chase Smith in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Patricia Neal dramatized Senator Chase Smith's Declaration of Conscience speech in the 1978 television movie Tail Gunner Joe.


External links

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