Margaret Chase Smith for president?

“Would you comment on the possible candidacy of Margaret Chase Smith?” someone asked John F. Kennedy at his last press conference in 1963, only days before he left for Dallas.

“I think she is very formidable, if that is the appropriate word to use about a very fine lady,” Kennedy replied. “She is a very formidable political figure.”

At the time, Smith was the nation’s first and longest-serving woman senator.

She announced that she was running for president on January 27, 1964, at the Women’s National Press Club. In heaven, the Chicago Tribune reported, “the first woman suffrage leaders of almost 100 years ago, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, must have smiled.”

Most reporters didn’t take Smith seriously. Could she “stand all-night crisis conferences at the White House if she became president?” asked Today show interviewer Martin Agronsky, who commented that “many people consider women the weaker sex.”

Margaret Chase Smith didn’t become president, of course. However, she was the first woman in this country to be formally nominated at the national convention of a major party for the office of the president.

Ellen Fitzpatrick writes about Smith in her book The Highest Glass Ceiling—Women’s Quest of the American Presidency.

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