Saturday, March 22, 2014

Margaret Chase Smith, Sigma Kappa

Photo courtesy of Sigma Kappa

To help celebrate Women’s History Month, the NPC blog is spotlighting Panhellenic women who have been influential historical figures. The second featured woman is Margaret Chase Smith a member of Sigma Kappa. Smith was an accomplished politician and a proud Panhellenic woman.  She was born and raised in Skowhegan, Maine. She graduated from Skowhegan High School in 1916 and married Clyde Smith, a politician, in 1930. Smith became involved in local politics during the 1930s when she was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee. After her husband unexpectedly passed away in 1940, she ran for and won his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Smith was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress and was the first woman from Maine to serve in both the House and the Senate. Smith’s political career began in 1940 and lasted until 1972; during that time she was the first woman to lead the Senate Republican Conference. In the 1964 presidential election, Smith tossed her hat into the ring and was the first woman to receive a nomination at a major party convention. Despite losing every primary election, she stuck with it until she placed second to the other Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater. Smith was honored for her accomplishments in politics with the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Although Smith never attended college, she was awarded an honorary degree from Colby College in 1943. In 1949, the Sigma Kappa Alpha Chapter at Colby College extended Smith an offer of honorary membership. On Feb. 18, 1949, Smith was initiated into the Sigma Kappa sisterhood.

Margaret Chase Smith exemplifies the definition of a Panhellenic woman. She was a fearless leader who opened doors for women in politics. During her lifetime she received 95 honorary degrees and more than 270 honors and awards. Smith will forever be remembered for her contributions as a member of Congress and as a trailblazing Panhellenic woman.