( 1897-), U.S. representative and senator from Maine, and presidential candidate
SANDRA J. SARKELA
In September 1948, after a brutal primary campaign, Margaret Chase Smith, Republican of Maine, became the first woman elected to the United States Senate in her own right. She was, in fact, the first woman elected to both houses of Congress and the first woman to seek the Republican party's presidential nomination. Her success in gaining and remaining in elected office is unique in U.S. history. Her rhetoric was an important instrument in her success, and a study of her public speaking reveals, in its words and in her decisions to speak those words, a consistency and a moral forthrightness unusual in any period.
Margaret Chase had no formal training in public speaking. Born and raised in a working-class family in Skowhegan, Maine, she graduated from high school in 1916. Unable to afford college, she became a full-time worker during World War I, four years before U.S. women were enfranchised. Then, in 1920, women voted for the first time in a U.S. presidential election. For an independent working woman without a college education, U.S. democracy now offered two important avenues of empowerment: freedom of speech and the ballot.
In 1930 she married liberal Republican State Representative Clyde Smith. When he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936, Chase Smith worked as his congressional secretary and campaigned actively for his reelection. On October 27, 1938, Navy Day, speaking before a women's group in behalf of her husband, she included a few words about the need for naval preparedness. Her decision to speak about a serious issue reflected her dedication to the inclusion of women in the democratic process. At the same time, her assertion that "the real attack, if any, will be by way of the sea" proved prophetic.