Integrity -- old-fashioned, Down East Maine integrity -- is what first comes to mind in recalling the career of Margaret Chase Smith, who died recently at the age of 97. She had dignity, principle and courage.
Mrs. Smith's distinguished career as a senator and congresswoman included a number of "firsts," but none more important than her contributions to major issues that dominated the politics of her time: U.S. preparation for World War II, the anti-communist hysteria that gripped Congress after the war and a strong military during the Cold War.
Mrs. Smith was the first woman to serve both in the House and Senate, the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right, the first woman Republican senator and the first woman to have her name seriously entered in nomination for the presidency by a major party (in 1964).
Not bad. But what was most important to her, her constituents and the nation was her service as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, the second ranking minority member of the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, third ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee and for six years chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Those were positions of influence in the Senate, gained by 24 years of service and her colleagues' respect.
Senator Smith's finest hour was her early denunciation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Red-baiting demagogue then at his peak. But that was no isolated incident. As a member of the House, she had voted against her party in favor of the draft in 1940 and later against creation of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. As a senator she was a staunch supporter of civil rights.
There could hardly be a better role model for women in politics. Yet she rejected the label "feminist." Senator Smith worked to insure that women in the armed forces got a fair chance for promotion. She earned her own position of influence in the Senate the old-fashioned way -- through hard work. She was always a partisan Republican, but she voted on the merits of issues, occasionally breaking with her party. McCarthy denounced her, but so did Nikita Khrushchev. She will be remembered not for those she angered, but for her exemplary service to Maine and the nation.