Women's History History - Margaret Chase Smith

Distinguished as the first woman to become both a member of the United States House of Representatives and Senate, Margaret Chase Smith was a proud daughter of the state of Maine. Born Margaret Madeline Chase on December 14, 1897, in Skowhegan, Maine, her rise in politics was the result of interesting circumstances.

After graduating from high school in 1916, she worked as a teacher in her hometown’s one-room schoolhouse. She subsequently held jobs as a telephone operator, at a local newspaper and as manager of a wool mill before marrying Clyde Smith in 1930. More than twenty years older than Margaret, Smith had political ambitions and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He and Margaret were active members of the Republican Party. After Clyde’s election, Margaret served as his secretary, assisting with everyday tasks as well as writing speeches.

After her husband died of a heart attack in April 1940, Margaret assumed his position in the House and held on to the post after winning in a special election that June. During her eight years in the House of Representatives, Smith voted guided by her conscience rather than following the party line, supporting initiatives that she felt were important, regardless of who sponsored them – Democrats or Republicans.

In 1948, Smith successfully won her Senate bid. In 1960, Smith was challenged for her seat by Lucia Cormier. This marked the first time that two women competed against each other for a Senate seat. Four years later, Smith tried to become the Republican presidential nominee for president, but eventually lost out to fellow senator Barry Goldwater. In 1972, Smith lost her Senate seat to Democrat William D. Hathaway. At the time, Smith was the longest serving female U.S. Senator in history.

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.