January 27

Margaret Chase Smith’s historic impact still felt 50 years later

Skowhegan native’s role as first woman to be put into nomination for president at a major party’s national convention marked by Collins, others.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Skowhegan announces her candidacy for president of the United States on Jan. 27, 1964, and later that year became the first woman to be placed in nomination by a major political party at its national convention. Her announcement was made before the National Women’s Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Contributed photo

“It’s very interesting the way she constructs the speech,” Richards said. “She goes through a litany of reasons that people have told her not to run — basically it boiled down to the fact that she’s a woman and that she won’t be taken seriously, won’t be able to raise enough money, won’t get enough interest, she won’t get enough votes — why bother?”

Richards said if people told Smith she could not do something, that made her want to do it all the more. He said Smith led the Women’s National Press Club audience in one direction — then took them in the opposite direction and dropped the big announcement.

“As gratifying as are the reasons advanced urging me to run, I find the reasons advanced against my running to be far more impelling,” Smith told the group. “For were I to run, it would be under severe limitations with respect to lack of money, lack of organization, and lack of time because of the requirements to be on the job in Washington doing my elected duty instead of abandoning those duties to campaign — plus the very heavy odds against me.

“So because of these very impelling reasons against my running, I have decided that I shall enter the New Hampshire presidential preferential primary and the Illinois primary.”

Smith competed in three primaries — New Hampshire, Illinois and Oregon. Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. Smith got 27 delegates on the first ballot, fifth behind Goldwater, Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Smith was born in Skowhegan in December 1897. Her entry into politics came through the career of Clyde Smith, the man she married in 1930. Clyde was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936. Smith served as his secretary. When he died in 1940, she succeeded her husband and then was elected in her own right.

After four terms in the House, she won election to the United States Senate in 1948. In so doing, she became the first woman elected to both houses of Congress.

After another four terms in the Senate and 32 years in Congress, Smith lost re-election in 1972. She retired to her home in Skowhegan and began planning for the establishment of a library. The Margaret Chase Smith Library opened in 1982 and for the next dozen years, she presided over the library, meeting with admirers, former constituents, politicians, policymakers, researchers, and school children.

In January 2011 the University of Maine assumed responsibility for all daily operations and programs at the library on Norridgewock Avenue. The Portland-based Margaret Chase Smith Foundation, a nonprofit corporation established by Smith in 1983 to support the library, took ownership of the library the same year.

Margaret Chase Smith died at her home on May 29, 1995.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367 dharlow@centralmaine.com Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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