Women Politicians and the Media

By Maria Braden | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4

SHE ALWAYS WORE A SINGLE ROSE IN HER LAPEL. BUT A ROSE IS FRAGILE AND SHORT- lived, unlike the strong-willed, independent Margaret Chase Smith, whose career spanned thirty-two years in the House and Senate. A woman of few words, she had a reputation for doing her legislative homework, and people listened when she spoke. For nearly a quarter-century she was the only woman in the U.S. Senate. Frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, she aimed higher, running for president in 1964. But she couldn't break through the glass ceiling of her gender. The media didn't help much.

Although she was adamant that being a woman made no difference in the way she did her job, news stories always seemed to make Smith's gender her primary attribute. She was universally referred to in the press as the "Lady from Maine." After she was elected to the Senate in 1948 -- the first woman elected in her own right and the first female to occupy a Senate seat in six years, news accounts of her legislative activities often implied astonishment that the little woman showed so much courage. Sometimes she was singled out for coverage simply because she was a woman. Even after twenty-four years in the Senate, she was still depicted as a novelty.

Smith wasn't naive about the news media. In fact, she understood news very well. She had worked for a newspaper as "the girl around town" when she was growing up in Skowhegan, a small industrial town in central Maine, in the early part of the century. Later she was circulation manager for the weekly Skowhegan Independent Reporter. She knew what kind of information reporters needed, and she understood the pressures they were under to compete with others for exclusive stories and to meet deadlines.

Smith went to Washington in 1936 and served as assistant to her husband, Clyde, who had been elected Representative from Maine's Second Congressional District. But at reelection time two terms later, Clyde Smith had a heart attack just before the primary filing deadline, and asked his wife to file


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