POLITICS OF CONSCIENCE: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith by Patricia Ward Wallace

POLITICS OF CONSCIENCE: A Biography of Margaret Chase Smith

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A meticulous biography of one of this century's more influential female politicians. Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995) was the first woman to be elected to both houses of the US Congress and the first to make a bid for a major party's presidential nomination. Wallace's (US History/Baylor Univ.) account of her life seems excessively harsh at points but shows Smith's determination, hard-driving ambition, pettiness, hypersensitivity to criticism, and political independence. Smith is best known for her Declaration of Conscience; on the Senate floor, in a climate of intense political paranoia created by Senator Joe McCarthy's attacks on imagined communists, cold warrior Smith condemned red-baiting witch-hunts as antidemocratic. Wallace is never taken in by such moments; her Margaret Chase Smith is opportunistic, seeing power and headlines as ends in themselves, rather than as means to advance causes dear to her heart. Wallace provides convincing evidence to support this slant, but at times overstates the case, as she does Smith's hostility to feminism. Smith often said she hoped that her success would inspire other women, yet she refused to call herself a feminist or work with feminist groups. To call her a ""professional anti\feminist,"" though, seems an exaggeration. Smith cosponsored the Equal Rights Amendment at one point and throughout her career fought to improve women's access to military jobs and service. Wallace also examines Smith's close connection to William Lewis, her longtime aide and speechwriter. Lewis and Smith shared a house and spent all their time together, leading to speculation that they were lovers; the truth of this has never been established, and Wallace judiciously leaves the question open. Though at times her tone is too judgmental, Wallace has done sound research and has an admirably skeptical approach to evidence.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Praeger