Best Known For
Margaret Chase Smith is best known for her independent American political career.
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She served on several committees during her time in the Senate, including Rules Committee, Appropriations Committee, and the Government Operations Committee. While she herself was against communism,
Smith spoke out in opposition of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s very intense persecution of nearly anyone suspected to have communist links.
McCarthy claimed to be on a crusade uproot the members of the government as well as others in public life who were communists. Special hearings were held with few results except perhaps for dragging people’s names and reputations through the mud. In 1950, Smith spoke out about the notorious senator in 1950, delivering a speech called the “Declaration of Conscience.”
Smith said in part, “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.”
Known as the “Lady from Maine,” Smith was a skilled diplomat as well as a talented legislator. In the mid-1950s, she traveled the world, visiting with the leaders of twenty-three nations. Smith also hosted a visit to Maine by President Dwight D. Eisenhower around this time. On the television program, Face the Nation, Smith debated well-known liberal and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1960, Smith fended off a challenge for her seat from Lucia Cormier. The landmark election was the first to consist of two women competing against each other for a Senate seat. Four years later, Smith sought the highest office in the country. She tried to become the Republican presidential nominee for president, but eventually lost out to fellow senator Barry Goldwater.
Re-elected to the Senate in 1966, Smith continued to vote based on her own beliefs, not party politics. She opposed President Richard Nixon’s two nominations for the U.S. Supreme Court—Clement Haynsworth in 1969 and G. Harrold Carswell in 1970. In 1972, Smith lost her bid for re-election and was replaced in the Senate by Democrat William D. Hathaway.
After leaving office in 1973, Smith was a visiting professor for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation for several years. She also helped establish the Margaret Chase Smith Library in her hometown of Skowhegan where she spent her final years. During her remarkable career, Smith received more than 90 honorary degrees and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989 from President George Bush.
Smith died in Skowhegan on May 29, 1995, from complications from a stroke she suffered several days earlier.
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When the 19th Amendment was ratified, women were finally given the right to vote, and over the years many courageous women have stepped onto the national political stage as well. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress and almost a century later Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And within the last two decades, the esteemable Hillary Clinton has served as First Lady, a New York senator and Secretary of State. These women, and many more, are setting the stage for the future of female leaders in Washington.
Visit Biography.com's Women's History group to explore more biographies, photos and videos of some the world's most fascinating women."
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