Margaret Chase Smith: A Free-Speech Crusader Margaret Chase Smith, called the "lady of Maine," was a tough hawk who took a keen interest in military affairs and free speech. In 1964, she became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency by a major political party.

Margaret Chase Smith: A Free-Speech Crusader

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. All this week, we've been profiling some of the most groundbreaking presidential candidates who never made it to the White House. Today, Senator Margaret Chase Smith. In 1964, Smith ran for the Republican presidential nomination and went all the way to the party's national convention. She was the first woman to reach those heights in a major political party. Our story comes from Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries.

(Soundbite of applause)

Former Senator MARGARET CHASE SMITH (1964 Republican Presidential Contender): There are those who make the contention that no woman should ever dare to aspire to the White House, that this is a man's world, and that it should be kept that way.

Ms. JANANN SHERMAN (Author, "No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith"): My name is Janann Sherman, and I wrote the book, "No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith."

Mr. MERTON HENRY (Worked for Margaret Chase Smith's campaign, 1964): My name is Merton Henry, and in 1964, I worked on the Margaret Chase Smith presidential campaign.

Ms. SHERMAN: Margaret Chase Smith was born in a little town in central Maine called Skowhegan. Her mother struggled working in a shoe factory, working as a waitress, and so forth. So it was not an easy life, and I think that was a basis for a lot of Margaret's ambition, that she didn't want to end up like her mother had. She had better ideas for herself.

Mr. HENRY: She was the first woman ever elected to the Senate in her own right. She was very much a middle-of-the-road Republican who really followed her own instincts on things.

Ms. SHERMAN: She definitely was seen by 1964 as a hawk.

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: It does not pay to play footsie with the Communists.

Mr. HENRY: She was probably the only woman in 1964 that had the stature to be a serious candidate for president.

(Soundbite of applause)

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: It is contended that I should not run for president because the odds are too heavily against me for even the most remote chance of victory.

Ms. SHERMAN: In January 1964, Margaret Chase Smith was scheduled to make a regular speech to the Women's Press Club.

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: Third, it is contended that, as a woman, I would not have the physical stamina and strength to run. So because of these very impelling reasons against my running, I have decided that I shall.

(Soundbite of cheering) .TEXT: Ms. SHERMAN: So that was the opening shot.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Woman: Margaret, M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T, Margaret.

Unidentified Woman #2: Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman to announce a serious bid for the White House. Who will held her the - New Hampshire presidential primary on March 10th.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Singing) We're all out for Margaret, the senator from the wonderful state of Maine.

Mr. HENRY: She campaigned in Illinois. She campaigned some in Oregon. She campaigned in small towns before rotary clubs. She drove those places by car.

Ms. SHERMAN: She would not accept campaign contributions, so she had no money, no poll workers, no buttons, no bumper stickers. Goldwater and Rockefeller, her opponents, were both millionaires, so I think she decided to take the moral high ground by saying, you don't have to be a millionaire to be president of the United States.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #1: From Washington D.C., Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Republican of Maine, will face the nation.

Ms. SHERMAN: She tried to get people to pay attention to her record, what she had done of substance, not the fact that she was a woman. But, of course, she was constantly asked that. I mean, it's the very first thing that people see.

Unidentified Man #2: Senator Smith, not all countries have the same attitudes towards women as the United States. How do you think a woman president of the United States would make out in international conferences and those so-called nose to nose meetings?

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: Well, I would call your attention to Mr. Kruchef's(ph) references to me through the years when he called me an amazon war monger hiding behind a rose.

Unidentified Man #2: Well, how do you think you would make out in a kitchen confrontation with Mr. Kruchef?

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: Oh, I wouldn't care to estimate that, if it was making blueberry muffins, I probably would win.

Unidentified Man #2: We are well aware of that, senator, from having sampled them.

Ms. SHERMAN: She was always having to walk that tight rope between being tough enough to be commander in chief, to run a country, but still feminine enough and lady like enough because being feminine was absolutely essential. And so she tried to balance it the best way she knew how.

(Soundbite of Leave It To The Girls)

Unidentified Woman #4: (Singing) Leave it to the girl where there's the thrill.

Mr. HENRY: She was always meticulously dressed. She was very careful about her appearance at everything.

Ms. SHERMAN: She would tell Time Magazine that nothing clears her mind like vacuuming or pose with a mixing bowl or primping in a mirror, that was a favorite. Senator Smith had a campaign song called, Leave It To The Girls.

(Sound bite of Leave It To The Girls)

Unidentified Woman #4: (Singing) We'll wear perfume and pearls Be diplomatic in can curls

Ms. SHERMAN: The response from the press was not pretty. One of the pundits said that a woman could be president just as long as she didn't act like one.

(Soundbite of Leave It To The Girls)

Unidentified Woman #4: To the girls

Ms. SHERMAN: The press never treated her as if she had a realistic shot at it.

Unidentified Man #3: Good afternoon. This is the Republican National Convention of the Carl Palace in San Francisco. Before this day is out, the nominee of the Republican Party will have been determined.

Unidentified Man #4: I am now proud and honored to nominate the senior senator from the great Republican state of Maine, Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. HENRY: You know, she knew at that point that she was not going to get the nomination to say the least.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #5: And there it is. Senator Barry Goldwater is the Republican Party's nominee for the presidency of the United States.

Ms. SHERMAN: The standard is, if you're the loser, well then, you very graciously release your delegates to vote for other candidates. But Senator Smith never released them. And the total of the 27 votes that she got on the floor, she hung on to, denying Barry Goldwater the unanimous nomination. So, she came in second.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #6: The tumult and the shouting has died. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the lady from Maine, has emerged from her president breaking bid for the presidency with even greater stature in reputation. Let's get around to the - you made some history, lovely lady, in being the first woman ever nominated.

Former Senator CHASE SMITH: Yes, it's quite a satisfaction today to think about...

Mr. HENRY: Why do it at all? People run because they want to prove a point. They run because they want to make a statement. They run because they've got an over sized ego or something. There are all sorts of reasons that people run for president, even though they may know they have little chance of winning. Her reason was to prove that a woman could be a serious presidential candidate, and she did. She proved it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #4: (Singing) So all out for Margaret.

Unidentified Man #7: Will we see a woman elected president of the United States during our lifetime? Perhaps not so wild a dream. The world is changing rapidly. Politics change with it. Many of the once impossible things have happened. Time alone will tell if a woman will someday break the tradition that only men can hold that office.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #4: (Singing) So all out for Margaret and we'll win, win, win.

NORRIS: Our series, Contenders, is produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries with help from Posie Grunner and Deborah George. Tomorrow, our final Contender, Shirley Chisholm.

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