Skowhegan’s Margaret Chase Smith, in her over-30-year-long political career, earned several firsts in women’s political history in the United States.

Smith and New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm are the subject of a recent post on the Unwritten Record Blog of The National Archives titled “Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm.”  Her name has come up frequently in recent days, as Hillary Clinton made history Tuesday night by becoming the first woman nominated by one of the two major political parties as its candidate for president.

Smith, who was born in 1897 in Skowhegan, entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1940 by winning a special election after the death of her husband, Clyde Smith, who had held the seat. She kept the job until she ran successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1948, when she became the only woman in the U.S. Senate and the first to have served in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.

In 1960, she and her opponent, Democrat Lucia M. Cormier, made history by taking part the first all-woman contest for a U.S. Senate seat.

In 1964, Smith entered several Republican presidential primaries and was the first woman to be considered for nomination for president by a major political party, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco.

U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, arrives at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in this July 1964.

U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, arrives at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in this July 1964 photo.

When Smith made her announcement for president Jan. 27, 1964, before the Women’s National Press Club, it was considered groundbreaking.


Smith’s candidacy had symbolic effect in 1964, Jim Melcher, a professor of political science at the University of Maine at Farmington, told the Morning Sentinel two years ago on the 50th anniversary of that announcment.

“What’s significant isn’t that she came close, because she didn’t really come that close, but that she is somebody that people have looked to, particularly women, as an inspiration for their own run for office,” Melcher said. “It’s a case where I think it had more impact in the long run in motivating other women in both parties to be interested in politics. It got people used to the idea of a woman candidate.”

In the decades following Smith’s run, many woman have gained delegates for the national Democratic and Republican conventions, but no woman had yet won a party’s nomination until Clinton Tuesday night and only two — Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008 — won vice presidential nominations. Clinton is due to accept the nomination Thursday night.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Skowhegan announces her candidacy for president of the United States on Jan. 27, 1964, and later that year became the first woman to be placed in nomination by a major political party at its national convention. Her announcement was made before the National Women’s Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith announces her candidacy for president of the United States on Jan. 27, 1964, in this contributed photo.

Smith competed in three primaries in 1964 — New Hampshire, Illinois and Oregon. Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. Smith got 27 delegates on the first ballot, in fifth place behind Goldwater, Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan Gov. George Romney.

Smith retired to her home in Skowhegan when she lost a Senate re-election bid in 1972. The Margaret Chase Smith Library opened in 1982 in Skowhegan, and for the next dozen years, she presided over the library, meeting with admirers, former constituents, politicians, policymakers, researchers and schoolchildren.

In January 2011 the University of Maine assumed responsibility for all daily operations and programs at the library on Norridgewock Avenue. The Portland-based Margaret Chase Smith Foundation, a nonprofit corporation established by Smith in 1983 to support the library, took ownership of the library the same year.

Margaret Chase Smith died at her home on May 29, 1995.

Portland Press Herald and Morning Sentinel reporters contributed to this story.

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