SKOWHEGAN — Ownership and operation of the Margaret Chase Smith Library is coming home to Maine.

Beginning Jan. 1, the University of Maine will assume responsibility for all daily operations and programs at the library on Norridgewock Avenue. Those duties have been handled by Northwood University of Michigan.

The Portland-based Margaret Chase Smith Foundation, a nonprofit corporation established by then-Sen. Smith in 1983 to support the library, will take ownership of the library itself, built by Northwood in 1982.

The move is an important one for the university system and for the people of Maine, said Charley Morris, senior research associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.

“We’re honored and excited about the opportunity to work with the library,” Morris said Monday. “I think it’s good news for the state of Maine because Sen. Smith represented the state of Maine and the library is located in Skowhegan. This is hopefully going to be good for everyone involved.”

According to a letter from Michael Quinlan, a Portland attorney and foundation treasurer, Northwood University recently announced its intention to cease operations of the library at the end of this year because of other major educational commitments.

Quinlan said the transition to the University of Maine was a logical choice.

“We anticipate that the existing close relationship between the library and the policy center will increase through joint activities,” he said. “Sen. Smith maintained close ties with the university throughout her career and was proud of the honorary Doctor of Laws degree awarded to her in 1949. We think she would be pleased with the foundation’s decision.”

In addition, longtime library Director Gregory Gallant has announced he will retire at the end of the year to complete ongoing research regarding Sen. Smith’s unique role in the U.S. Senate. Gallant has been named director emeritus, effective Dec. 31.

The foundation named current Assistant Director David Richards as interim director of the library.

Davida Barter, of Skowhegan, a member of the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation board of directors, said bringing the library home to Maine will be a plus for the state and for Skowhegan in particular.

“I think it’s the best of both worlds,” Barter said Monday. “It will put the Margaret Chase Smith Library back on the map. I really believe the university system will be a very good influence in promoting the library and all of it’s functions.”

Born in Skowhegan in 1897, Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman in the nation to have been elected to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Smith was also the first woman to have her name entered in nomination for president by a major party. She died on Memorial Day, 1995.

The Margaret Chase Smith Library serves as an archive, museum, educational facility and public policy center that houses documents and memorabilia from Smith’s 32-year congressional career.

Smith, a moderate Republican, is remembered as a fearless and early challenger to the political attacks and paranoia employed by Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin as he sought to root out Communists in the media and among federal employees. On June 1, 1950, Smith delivered a speech entitled “Declaration of Conscience,” in which she challenged her own party to halt a political movement she perceived as squelching the free exchange of speech and ideas.

Quinlan said the connection between the town of Skowhegan, Sen. Smith and Northwood University in Michigan began in the late 1970s when the senator and her top aide and personal friend Bill Lewis met the founders of Northwood in Florida.

“I think at the time she and Bill Lewis were thinking about where her records and congressional papers might end up,” Quinlan said. “One thing led to another and Northwood agreed to build the library; Northwood owned it and operated it from then until now.”

Quinlan said fundraising is in place to cover the costs of the transition and future operations of the library. Any contributions will be a 2011 charitable tax deduction, he said. Checks should be made payable to the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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