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Definition: Margaret Chase, Smith from Chambers Classic Speeches

Margaret Chase Smith née Chase (1897-1995) was born in Skowhegan, Maine, the daughter of a barber. She worked as a teacher, then on a newspaper, marrying its publisher, Clyde Smith, in 1930. He became US Representative in Washington and when he died in 1940 she took over his position, becoming Maine's first Congresswoman. Eight years later, she became the first woman elected as a US senator in her own right and the first woman to be elected to both houses of the US Congress. She was also the first woman to read the address to the Senate. Re-elected three times, she served until 1973. In 1950 she became one of the first Republican senators to speak out against the anti-communist activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and in 1964 she campaigned for the office of US president, the first woman to do so since Victoria Woodhull in 1872. She wrote the books Gallant Women (1968) and Declaration of Conscience (1972). In 1989 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Summary Article: Smith, Margaret Chase
From Congress A to Z

Margaret Chase Smith (1897–1995), a Maine Republican, entered the House of Representatives in 1940 after the death of her husband, Rep. Clyde H. Smith. In 1948, she was elected to the Senate, where she served until 1973. An independent-minded Republican, Smith was the first of her party to denounce Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy on the Senate floor for his virulent anticommunist activities.

Before her marriage, Smith worked as a teacher and then as an executive with a newspaper and a woolen mill. After her husband entered Congress, she worked as his assistant in his congressional office. He encouraged her to run for his House seat after he suffered a heart attack in 1940. He died later that year, and she was elected to the seat in a special election.

In the House, Smith served on the Naval Affairs Committee, where she was a strong advocate of military preparedness. Her reputation as a “hawk” was borne out by her 1961 speech in the Senate criticizing President John F. kennedy's seeming reluctance to use nuclear weapons. She charged that this reluctance put the United States at a disadvantage with the Soviet Union. The speech prompted Nikita S. Khrushchev, then Soviet premier, to call her “the devil in the disguise of a woman.”

Margaret Chase Smith was a firm supporter of the military. Here Smith and two other women help two Boy Scouts unload tinware collected for war use in front of the Capitol building in 1941.

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