Readers pick Margaret Chase Smith to grace $10 bill


Margaret Chase Smith (Public domain photo)


More than 1,000 BDN readers recently cast their votes online for women with Maine roots who should grace the $10 bill. They clearly prefer former Skowhegan legislator Margaret Chase Smith.

Sixty-two percent of readers chose Smith, the first woman to serve in both chambers of Congress. The distant runner-up was former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, with 11 percent, followed by author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, with 9 percent of a total of 1,002 votes.

The U.S. Treasury last week announced it would finally add a woman to the face of the bill in 2020 — though she would have to share space with first Treasury Secretary — and long-time 10-spot occupier — Alexander Hamilton. Current Treasury honcho Jacob Lew said it would consider public input in its final decision.

So who should be on the new $10 bill? Let’s look at our poll winner.

Smith, born just before the turn of the 20th century, took over her husband Clyde’s congressional seat in 1940 when he fell ill, winning a special election by a huge margin. She won every subsequent regular election until 1948, when she was elected — again, by a huge margin — to the U.S. Senate.

For 32 years, in fact, the Republican won every election, except for her failed presidential run in 1964, where she became the first woman added to a nomination for president by a major party.

She knew she wouldn’t win. But that didn’t stop her.

 “I have few illusions and no money, but I’m staying for the finish,” she said. “When people keep telling you, you can’t do a thing, you kind of like to try.”

 Smith was known for being fearless — with a fierce independence characteristic of Mainers.

 But it was a speech she gave in 1950 for which she is perhaps most widely remembered.

In that speech, “Declaration of Conscience,” Smith became the the first U.S. senator to stand up against Joseph McCarthy, the then-junior senator from Wisconsin, whose communist witch hunt dug the nation into a dark period of fear, distrust and paranoia.

“Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes,” she said on the Senate floor on June 1, 1950.

“As a United States Senator, I am not proud of the way in which the Senate has been made a publicity platform for irresponsible sensationalism. I am not proud of the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle. I am not proud of the obviously staged, undignified countercharges that have been attempted in retaliation from the other side of the aisle.

“I don’t like the way the Senate has been made a rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity. I am not proud of the way we smear outsiders from the Floor of the Senate and hide behind the cloak of congressional immunity and still place ourselves beyond criticism on the Floor of the Senate.”

Her stand did little to slow McCarthy’s fear mongering, and it made her a target of his wrath. But it was notable at a time when many others were too terrified to speak against him.

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.