Margaret Chase Smith, 1964
In 1964, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine became the first woman to run for a major party’s presidential nomination. Smith began her national political career in 1940, when she won the Congressional seat previously held by her husband. She served in the House of Representatives and Senate for the next thirty-three years and was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress.
In January 1964, Smith announced that she would be a candidate in the New Hampshire and Illinois Republican primaries. In her announcement speech, she listed the reasons that others had levied as to why she should not run: that the White House was a man’s world; the odds against her were too steep; she did not have the physical stamina to run a campaign; and that she did not have the financial or political backing to succeed.
Yet, Smith also detailed the reasons that she should run, including having more political experience than other candidates. Smith also argued that, whatever happened, she had the “opportunity to break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the Presidency.” Smith received little support from the Republican establishment, but was considered by many—from grassroots supporters to Washington politicians—to be a serious, highly qualified candidate. In a November 1963 press conference, shortly before leaving for Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy said of Smith’s candidacy, "She is a very formidable political figure."
Smith campaigned in selected states through the primaries and, though she did not win any states, earned the support of twenty-five convention delegates and became the first woman to have her name in consideration at a major party’s convention.