Smith Runs for President
by Jo Freeman
in Maine Sunday Telegram, January 30, 2000, City Edition, p. C:3.
January 27, 1964 the Republican Senator from Maine stood before a
luncheon of the Women's National Press Club held at the Mayflower
Hotel and announced that she was running for President. At this moment
Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman to become a candidate
for a major party nomination for the nation's highest office.
was used to breaking traditions and making precedents. While she had
been elected to the House in 1940 to fill the seat vacated by the
death of her husband Clyde, she had been elected to the Senate on
her own in 1948, and re-elected in 1954 and 1960. In 1964 she was
serving on three important Senate Committees: Appropriations, Armed
Services, and Aeronautical and Space Sciences.
a minority of one (and for six years two) in the most exclusive club
in the world, she was always in the public eye. But never so much
as on June 1, 1950, when she stood before the Senate and accused the
Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy, of turning her beloved
chamber into a "forum for hate." Her Declaration of Conscience,
signed by six other Senators, was the first Republican opposition
to McCarthy's reign of terror through random accusations of Communist
also spoke up for women. While serving in the House Naval Affairs
Committee during World War II she supported women working in war industries,
the Equal Rights Amendment, and women in the military. She took these
concerns with her to the Senate.
announcement of her candidacy was not spontaneous. For over a year
she had received a steady flow of mail urging her to run. While flattered,
she did not begin to take the possibility seriously until her mail
escalated after an AP story late in 1963 that she might run. It wasn't
party leaders or women's groups that convinced her to do so; the former
were flustered at the thought and the latter were silent. It was ordinary
Smith listed four arguments her correspondents gave as to why she
should run (and six why she should not run). She had more experience
than any of the other candidates. The voters wanted a wider choice
than they offered. Lacking money, machine or party backing, she was
independent of others' control.
just as important to Smith was the fact "that through me for
the first time the women of the United States had an opportunity to
break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the
presidency of the United States -- to destroy any political bigotry
against women on this score just as the late John F. Kennedy had broken
the political barrier on religion and destroyed once and for all such
course, Kennedy wasn't the first Catholic to run for President, and
Smith wasn't the first woman. In 1872 Victoria Claflin Woodhull created
the Equal Rights Party as a platform for her own candidacy, and in
1884 and 1888 attorney Belva Lockwood headed its ticket. During the
next decades several women were slated by third parties as Vice Presidential
candidates. But Sen. Smith was the first to run as a Republican, or
a Democrat. Thus she was more of a pathbreaker than JFK, who, after
all followed in the footsteps of Democratic nominee Alfred E. Smith.
a few commentators asked whether a woman, any woman, should run for
President. But more than a few took side swipes at her age. Although
66 was within the normal range for heads of state, and women regularly
outlive men, they pointed out that it wasn't the optimal age for U.S.
Presidents. The optimal age -- late forties to early fifties -- was
when most women went through menopause. Reporters also asked whether
Smith would have the stamina to serve in the world's most demanding
if to answer them, Smith, who had the best attendance record in the
Senate, spent a week campaigning in New Hampshire while the temperature
was below zero. Unlike the men, she didn't wear pants. In a field
of seven candidates in the Republican primary, Smith got 2.4 percent
of the vote.
did better in subsequent primaries, getting 25 percent of the Republican
votes in Illinois. No one, including her, believed she would win the
nomination. But no one believed most of the men running for President
would either. Smith lasted to the bitter end of the contentious Republican
Convention held in San Francisco in July. She was formally nominated
for President and got 27 votes.
Smith was defeated when she ran for re-election in 1972, but lived
on in Maine until age 97.