Women Win by Diane Mack
For the Pensacola News Journal
For Sunday, June 2, 2019
Submitted by: Diane Mack on behalf of the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida
Women take on challenges and win
She was the daughter of a barber and grew up in a New England mill town. In an effort to save for a college education, she began working for wages at the age of thirteen; it was not enough. After high school, she worked in office jobs for a telephone company, a tax assessor, a weekly newspaper, a waste process company, and a textile mill. When she married a man twenty-one years her senior, she described it years later as a business arrangement.
Yet this woman, whose gender, modest origins, and lack of education stacked the odds against her, became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, the longest serving female Senator in history until Barbara Mikulski broke the record in 2011, and in 1964 the first woman formally nominated at the national convention of a major party for the office of President.
Margaret Madeline Chase of Skowhegan, Maine, dated Clyde Smith as he served in both houses of the state legislature. In 1936, six years after they were married, she helped him get elected to the U.S. House and went to Washington to serve as his secretary, for which she insisted on being paid. By 1938 as Clyde’s health deteriorated, Margaret assumed more and more of his duties. When he died in 1940, Margaret won what was essentially an uncontested special election to serve out the six months remaining in his term of office. She was expected to win by virtue of a convention of the time known as the “widow’s mandate.” She was not expected to have her own political ambitions. The establishment soon learned otherwise.
Within weeks of winning the special election, Margaret Chase Smith filed to run for re-election. After defeating four male opponents in the 1940 Republican primary and a male opponent in the 1940 general election, she became the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Maine in her own right. In 1948 she won her U.S. Senate seat in spite of a smear campaign that began with pronouncements from her opponents that “the Senate is no place for a woman” and degenerated into accusations of Communist leanings because she supported such efforts as the Truman Doctrine (defending the U.S. in the Cold War) and the Marshall Plan for a Europe trying to recover from the devastations of World War II. She won every election until 1972 when at the age of 75 her opponents used the issue of her age and rumors of poor health to defeat her. She passed away in 1995 at the age of 97.
To this day many women encounter special challenges in running for office, challenges such as a double standard in voter expectations and media coverage. With every election, however, they are taking on those challenges, more women are winning, and the percentages of women in elected office, on average, are increasing—though not nearly enough.
From 2013 when the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida was founded to today, women’s representation in the U.S. Congress has inched up from 18.5% to 23.7%; in the Florida legislature, from 25% to 31%; and in Escambia County, from 34% to 38%. While the trajectory is encouraging, there is work to be done toward the 50% representation that will achieve parity for women in public service.
Please join us on Thursday, June 27 for the Institute’s annual meeting and awards party that will mark the end of our fiscal year and the transfer of the stewardship of the organization from the remaining founders to the new leadership team. Register to attend at iwpflorida.org.
Diane Mack was the Founding President (2013-2016) and currently serves as Treasurer of the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida. After six years of service to the organization, she will leave the Board June 30. She looks forward to witnessing the future progress of IWP as it continues to work toward “Changing Politics One Woman at a Time.”
This guestview is offered on behalf of the IWP Board of Directors. To inquire about membership in the Institute, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Pensacola News Journal for publishing this article.