With more and more focus being put on the slim numbers of women leading the biggest companies in the world, the biggest job role on the planet, the presidency of the United States, may, finally, after 240 years of wait, be about to be filled by a woman.
When it has come to guessing who the first woman president might be, for decades now, the most reasoned and likely answer to give has been Hillary Rodham Clinton. The fact that women have tried to win the top job before Hillary has, it seems, been largely forgotten.
Many have in fact tried, the first being Victoria Woodhull in 1872, the leader of the American woman’s suffrage movement. But of the over fifty women who have ran with a mind to winning the nomination of the two main parties, only one, other than Hillary, has managed to garner over 100,000 votes. That accolade belongs to Margaret Chase Smith who received 227,007 votes. This happened not in the age of equality in the workplace, but in 1964.
When Smith indicated that she might well run for the presidency, President Kennedy, in his last press conference before he set off on his ill fated trip to Dallas in November 1963, was asked to give his assessment of her potential candidacy. There were giggles and laughs and whispered crowing amid the prominently male press core as the question was asked, but Kennedy was prepared and his answer surprised everyone. “I would think if I were a Republican candidate, I would not look forward to campaigning against Margaret Chase Smith in New Hampshire, or as a possible candidate for president,” Kennedy said. Amid laughs, he concluded, “I think she is very formidable, if that is the appropriate word to use about a very fine lady. She is a very formidable political figure.”
From that moment on her candidacy, once declared, stopped being a laughing matter and started to be taken more and more seriously by the press. Although her bid ultimately failed to gain enough traction to be successful, despite a very strong finish in the Illinois primary, it was the very fact that she dared to run that was the important thing.
“There are those who make the contention that no woman should ever dare to aspire to the White House, that this is a man’s world and that it should be kept that way,” Smith said in the speech that announced her run for president. “I find the reasons advanced against my running to be far more impelling,” she announced.
By announcing her run for president Chase Smith said she was ‘pioneering the way for a woman in the future, to make her more acceptable, to make the way easier for her to be elected president of the United States.”
She faced sexism at every turn. Nearly every newspaper report began by noting that Smith’s age was sixty six, which was viewed to be advanced, while a similar hue and cry was not made over Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater’s age, even though they were barely a few years younger. She also faced thin crowds, who often stubbornly refused to turn out for her. But Smith was not disheartened, instead going on to campaign across the country.
Margaret Chase Smith made the way clear for women today to run for the role of chief executive by becoming the first woman to have her name put in contention for nomination at the national convention of a major party for the office of US president. If Hillary Clinton, in a few months time, becomes the first woman to win the nomination of her party for president, then the role of Chase Smith, and others, in getting her to that historic destination should not be forgotten.
Margaret Chase Smith makes the announcement that she intends to run for president: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsgfHhWE9LE