Read Margaret Chase Smith's Declaration of Conscience condemning the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, free from the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith's Center for Public Policy.
Margaret Chase Smith
Margaret Chase was born in Skowhegan, Maine, on December 14, 1897, the daughter of Carrie Murray and George Emery Chase. As a young woman she taught school at a one-room schoolhouse, worked as a telephone operator, managed circulation for the Skowhegan Independent Reporter, and served as an executive with a local textile mill. She became involved with local women's organizations and helped found the Skowhegan Business and Professional Women's Club. She attended Colby College where she was a member of Sigma Kappa. In 1930, she married Clyde Smith, a respected political leader in central Maine.
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. 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 it the first time two women ran against each other for a Senate seat. By the end of her fourth term, the charm she had 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. She attended Colby College and was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority.
Senator Smith is 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. In 1954, when McCarthy 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.
Janis Benson portrayed Senator Smith in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
Patricia Neal dramatized Senator Smith's Declaration of Conscience speech in the 1978 television movie Tail Gunner Joe.