Margaret Chase Smith


Honorary Degree (1989)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich


Margaret Chase Smith has long been considered one of this nations's great stateswomen. Elected to the United States Congress in 1940, she served continuously for more than three decades, first as a Member of the House of Representatives and, from 1948 to 1972, as Senator. She served on several prominent Congressional committees and earned widespread respect for her knowledge, wisdom, and firm commitment to the central values of enlightened government. She was the first woman elected to serve in both houses of Congress, and the first woman from a major political party to have her name placed in nomination for the office of President of the United States.

Senator Smith was born at Skowhegan, Maine. During her early years she was a school teacher, manager of the circulation department of the Skowhegan newspaper, and an executive with a textile firm. In 1930 she married Clyde H. Smith, who was then president of the Independent Reporter Corporation and chairman of the State Highway Commission of Maine. He was elected to Congress in 1936, serving until his untimely death in 1940. Margaret Chase Smith was elected to fill his unexpired term, and was reelected in the same year to a full term.

Throughout her Congressional career she maintained an interest in military affairs. After only three years in the House of Representatives, she secured a seat on the powerful Naval Affairs Committee. By the 80th Congress she was chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee and later became the ranking Republican member. She was a pioneer in reserve legislation and it was primarily through her efforts that women were granted regular status in the armed services. She was a powerful and knowledgeable advocate of military preparedness, a position enhanced by her detailed understanding of the federal budget.

Senator Smith quickly earned a reputation as the guardian of individual rights and the protector of freedom of speech. In 1950 she had the courage to speak out in condemnation of McCarthyism at a time when many others feared to do so. Her firm commitment to conscience and justice helped turn the tide against the bigotry that characterized the McCarthy era. Senator Smith was respected also for her concern for the private sector. She was always a staunch proponent of free enterprise, which she saw as a partner with strong government in promoting the progress of the country.

Following her retirement from active political life, Margaret Chase Smith launched a second career as visiting professor and lecturer at numerous colleges and universities, where her experience, wisdom, and values are an inspiration to young people. Her achievements and contributions have been recognized by 91 honorary degrees.