Maine’s most famous senator wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
She had class, that’s for sure. Even perched on a rough wooden dock amid a sea of pulp in Woodland, Senator Margaret Chase Smith stood out, with her heels, pearl necklace, and a signature rose pinned to her lapel. The most important part of Smith’s ensemble, though, was the piercing eye contact she gave to every person she met, never mind if it was Winston Churchill or this pair of unidentified, pick pole-wielding log drivers at the St. Croix Paper Company. Such encounters, though occasionally captured by cameramen like this one from the New York Times, were hardly staged photo ops — the expression on the mill manager at far right shows the opinion he and Smith shared for such theatrics. Instead, events like this one as well as the “Meet the Candidates” evening that the Washington County Republicans scheduled during the fall of 1960 were encounters Smith used to emphasize what she’d done for rural Maine — including lobbying to save a customs station, and its forty jobs, in nearby Vanceboro shortly before this photograph was taken — and with a smile reminding Mainers how much she’d appreciate their vote in return.
Indeed, Smith’s smile and positive message was critical to her landslide reelection victory in the 1960 senate race — her 62 percent majority over Democrat Lucia Cormier was the highest of any senator elected that year — as she pushed to maintain the “happy and prosperous Maine” she found in campaign stops such as this one. “It seems that generally throughout the state business and economic conditions are the best they have ever been,” she said, even as her opponent focused on the disappearance of the textile and shoe industries in Maine and the out-migration of the state’s young people. Ironically, Cormier’s message wasn’t altogether off the mark; Maine still struggles with how to keep the next generation, and just last winter the same lumber mill shown here, now owned by Domtar and in the since-renamed town of Baileyville, was shut down for a few months, though it reopened later this summer.
Despite Smith’s carefully composed appearance, it was often her down-to-earth attitude that made a connection with hard-working Mainers. She won eight consecutive elections during her thirty-two-year political career, becoming the first woman elected to both houses of Congress, and the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for president by a major party. When one worker at a Maine campaign stop like this one sheepishly stuck out a greasy hand for her to shake, for instance, she reportedly snatched it right up: “That’s all right,” she told him. “I’ll wipe it off on the next fellow.”
(Photograph Margaret Chase Smith Library of Skowhegan, Maine.)
- By: Joshua F. Moore