Margaret Chase Smith (December 14, 1897-May 29, 1995) was a Republican Senator from Maine, and one of the most successful politicians in Maine history. She was the first woman to be elected to both the U.S. House and the Senate. She was also the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency at a major party's convention (1964 Republican Convention, won by Barry Goldwater). She was a moderate Republican and might be termed a Rockefeller Republican.
Margaret Chase Smith attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine and was inducted into the Alpha chapter of Sigma Kappa Sorority.
She first won a seat to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 3, 1940 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husband, Clyde Smith. She served on the House Naval Affairs committee during World War II. As co-chair of a subcommittee that investigated problems encountered by the War Department in rapidly establishing bases across the nation, she was instrumental in resolving conflicts between states, local jurisdictions and the military.
She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948. She served in the Senate from 1949 to 1973. In her bid for a third term in 1960, the Democratic Party put up Lucia Cormier, the Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives making the first time two women ran against each other for a Senate seat. By the end of her fourth term, the charm she had for so many years seemed to evaporate. She was defeated for reelection in 1972 by Democrat Bill Hathaway, the only election she ever lost in the state of Maine. In her last election Smith had been plagued by rumors of poor health (she had been using a motor scooter around the Senate). A Republican primary challenger taunted her for being out of touch; she did not have a state office operating in Maine. Also, she alienated liberals with her support for the Vietnam War while turning off conservatives with her votes against Nixon Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell.
Senator Smith had a professional and personal relationship with staff assistant William Lewis, a lawyer from Oklahoma with a Harvard MBA. He had been assigned to work with the House Naval Affairs committee while with the Naval Reserve. His political and legal savvy combined with his knowledge of military matters augmented her own experience. He remained her political advisor and personal partner until his death in 1982.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush in 1989 in addition to the U.S. Air Force's top award, the American Spirit Award, in recognition of her contributions as a "great American patriot." She was also presented with a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Rutgers University in addition to 93 other honorary degrees.
Senator Smith is historically prominent not only for her many firsts as a woman, but also for her early principled opposition to the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy. On June 1, 1950, she gave her Declaration of Conscience speech on the floor of the Senate, earning McCarthy's permanent ire and the nickname "Moscow Maggie" from his staff. Her speech, although it did not produce immediate backlash, was the beginning of the end for McCarthy. He had successfully intervened in Senate elections defeating key Democrats, but in 1954, when he attempted to challenge her seat by sponsoring a primary challenger, the Maine voters rejected the effort. She was the first (and as yet only) woman chair of the Senate Republican Conference, 1967-1972.
Senator Smith was portrayed by Janis Benson in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.