A pioneering female politician, Margaret Chase Smith, Alpha, Colby College, was the first woman to serve as a U.S. Senator, the first woman to serve in both houses of congress, and the first woman to represent the state of Maine in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. Smith is a recipient of the U.S. Air Force’s most prestigious award and was presented with 96 honorary degrees, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.
Margaret Chase Smith was born on December 14, 1897 in Skowhegan, Maine. She married Clyde Smith, a politician 21 years her senior, on May 14, 1930. Soon after, she became active in politics and was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee, which she served on from 1930-1936. When her husband was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Maine’s 2nd congressional district in 1936, Smith served as his secretary in Washington, D.C.
When her husband died in April 1940, Margaret Chase Smith ran in and won the special election to fill the remainder of his term. This made Smith the first woman elected to Congress from Maine. Three months later, she won the general election and was elected to a full two-year term in the House of Representatives in her own right. Over the next eight years, Smith was re-elected to three more terms, never receiving less than 60% of the vote.
In 1947, Smith announced her intention to run for the U.S. Senate. Facing a tough Republican primary against three well-established male candidates, Smith won primary and received more votes than her three opponents combined. In the general election in 1948, she defeated her Democratic challenger by a margin of 71% to 29% and became the first woman to represent Maine in the Senate and the first woman to have served in both houses of Congress.
In 1964, Smith ran as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. She was ultimately unsuccessful and did not receive the nomination, but she has the distinction of being the first woman to be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major party’s convention. When Margaret Chase Smith was ultimately defeated and left office in 1972 she was the longest-serving female Senator in history, a distinction that was not surpassed until January 5, 2011, when Senator Barbara Mikulski was sworn in for a fifth term.
Margaret Chase Smith passed away in 1995 at the age of 97.