Kennebec Tales

February 6

50th anniversary of Smith’s presidential run a bittersweet milestone

The women who were little girls when Smith was one of the Republicans in contention for president in 1964 are still wondering when they’re going to see the payoff.

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The future awaits: The someday editor (left) and historian in early 1964, around the time Margaret Chase Smith announced she was running for president.

Milliken Family Photo

“The idea that there was a ‘problem’ regarding the status of American women was in the air. Betty Friedan, of course, published The Feminine Mystique in ‘63, as well,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick, like Liz, points out that Smith’s influence is far greater than what she did in 1964.

“She had shown remarkable courage at other moments in her life — most notably when she issued her ‘Declaration of Conscience’ in 1950, condemning the recklessness of McCarthyism.”

People liked her. “Her support came not from party leaders but from the rank and file and reflected that ‘ordinary’ Americans were perhaps more progressive in their thinking about political leadership than the mainstream national political parties.”

So why haven’t we had a woman president, or even a nominee, since?

“It’s complicated,” Liz says.

She says it’s got as much to do with money and how it drives political campaigns, the country’s power structure, our lack of campaign reform, limits on elections and even our two-party system as it does with gender issues.

Liz points out that other countries, including ones that are not considered feminist hotbeds, like Pakistan, have had female heads of state simply because the process for picking their leaders is based more on the party, less on the individual.

But Fitzpatrick adds that some of those good old gender reasons still hold true.

There hasn’t been a female U.S. president “I suppose for the same reasons women are denied equality of opportunity in many other realms of life. Hardened prejudices, outright discrimination, fear of change.”

“American politics was long seen as the province of men and we forget that of all the demands the first women rights activists made at the Seneca Falls convention in 1848, the vote was the MOST radical of them.”

The 19th amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, had only been in existence for two years when Fitzpatrick’s mother was born in 1922.

So what would historian Liz have said to 3-year-old Liz 50 years ago, when Smith made her announcement?

“I would have said that within 20 years you’d have a woman as U.S. president.”

Many women — Smith, countless ones before and after, our mothers and our grandmothers — made their mark.

But pioneer days should be over by now.

If one thing about the past 50 years is true, it’s that the things keeping a woman from being president — like who controls the money and our country’s power structure, fear and discrimination — aren’t going to change unless the guys are invested, too.

Maybe Fitzpatrick’s grandfather and other men in the 1920s expected a different world for their daughters, the first generation born with the right to vote.

Their hopes were probably not much different from some fathers 50 years ago when Smith made her run.

Yet here it is, 2014.

Fathers with 3-year-old daughters, take a minute to imagine — as hard as it may be — what the world will be like for them in 2064.

Then help make it happen.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.
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