Hillary Clinton is definitely not the first woman to run for president. More than 200 others have made the attempt. But did you know a woman from Maine once reached for the presidency? It was Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to be elected to both houses of Congress.
In 1964, at the Republican National Convention, Smith became the first woman nominated for the presidency by a major party. As the above PBS video shows, President John F. Kennedy said one would not want to campaign against her.
“She is a very formidable political figure,” he said, though the crowd’s response was to laugh.
She didn’t win the Republican nomination. After declining to remove her name during the final balloting at the convention, she came in second to fellow Sen. Barry Goldwater.
The Skowhegan-born political figure described her efforts this way:
Women before me pioneered and smoothed the way for me to be the first women to be elected to both the House and the Senate, and that I should give back in return that which had been given to me.
As PBS’ Judy Woodruff points out, women like Smith helped set the stage for women like Clinton.
But Smith also experienced sexist backlash. As Ellen Fitzpatrick, author of “The Highest Glass Ceiling,” told PBS:
What was extraordinary was to find out, in 1964, the kinds of things said about Margaret Chase Smith, who arguably was really the best prepared of any woman who had run, certainly to that point, were actually more sexist than what was being said about Victoria Woodhull in 1870 [who was the first woman to run for president, before women had the right to vote].
She was depicted as, on the one hand, she had been greatly admired. As soon as she announced her bid for the presidency, she was depicted as menopausal, addled, not really up to the responsibility.
The video offers a fascinating look at women’s political history — and the role Maine played in it.