As originally posted on www.SDNN.com
Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!
Long before Hillary Clinton, there was Margaret Chase Smith.
Though she may not immediately spring to mind, Margaret Chase Smith certainly reigns as one of the 100 most important women in history and one worth remembering during National Women’s History Month.
Ms. Smith was a Republican Senator from Maine, and one of the most successful politicians in that state’s history. In 1940, while serving as secretary to her husband, Congressman Clyde Smith, he died suddenly of a heart attack. She ran for his seat and won – just a year after “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” hit the silver screen.
She was the first woman elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and also the first female Maine native to serve in either post. In 1960, the Democratic Party put up a female opponent to challenge Ms. Smith for the Senate seat – the first time two women battled it out in the same Senate race. Ms. Smith won handily.
Another great first: In 1964, she was the first woman to run a Presidential campaign all the way to convention and have her name placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency at a major party’s convention. However, Barry Goldwater won the Republican Party’s nomination instead.
Although many women have inspired me during my career, Ms. Smith was especially bold. She further broke ground by being the first, and still the only, woman chair of the Senate Republican Conference from 1967-1972. The fact that I am one of four women elected to the Board of Supervisors makes me feel like part of her team.
She was know as a moderate Republican and often linked with the “Rockefeller Republicans.” By the time she left office, Ms. Smith had the record as the longest-serving female senator in United States history, ranking 11th in seniority in the Senate (a record that stands today).
In addition to her many firsts, she proved to be gutsy. She took a very public and strong stand in opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigation tactics.
In 1950, she gave her Declaration of Conscience speech on the Senate floor, during which she said: “As a United States Senator, I’m not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism.” McCarthy publicly disliked her after the speech and nicknamed her “Moscow Maggie.” In 1954, he attempted to challenge her seat by sponsoring a challenger, but the effort failed.
Ms. Smith never graduated from college, though she did collect 93 honorary higher-education degrees over her lifetime. Before her political life, she worked in a variety of jobs – a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse, telephone operator, and office worker at a textile mill.
Despite her humble beginnings, she proved a talented and quotable orator with such gems as: “Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”
This is something I truly believe in and I have tried hard to stand by this motto.
It was this belief in being true to herself, regardless of popularity, that eventually led to her ouster from office in 1973. She coddled neither major party: She supported the Vietnam War, but voted against two of President Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees.
For her public service, she was awarded the U.S. Air Force’s top honor, the American Spirit Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush.
Ms. Smith took a lot of gumption with her to Washington, D.C., infiltrated the “Good Old Boys Club” and broke substantial ground throughout her career. She was a role model for women everywhere and people from simple beginnings.
Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price represents the Third District for the County of San Diego. Learn more about her at www.PamSlater.com or follow her on Twitter @PamSlaterPrice.