A Woman President in 1964?
Grade Level: Grades 6-12
Estimated Time: One or two class periods
What year was Margaret Chase Smith nominated by a national party as the first woman in the United States to run for the presidency?
Excerpt from “The Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith.” (Running time 5:52) Used with permission. The complete film is available from the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation.
This lesson introduces students to the pioneering woman politician Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who sought to become the first woman President of the United States in 1964. She and other women in the U.S. Congress served as ambassadors for expanding women’s roles in American society in the 1960s and 1970s.
Students will be able to demonstrate a broad understanding of women’s entrance into electoral and partisan politics.
Students will be able to understand how women’s political progress is connected to the ideas people have about gender roles.
What does women’s political advancement teach us about how democracy works?
How have ideas about gender influenced politics?
Technology Needs: Computer with Speakers and Internet Access
This Lesson Plan (PDF)
Primary Document: Smith’s Declaration of Conscience (PDF)
Primary Document: McCarthy’s Wheeling Speech (PDF)
Warm Up Activity: Brainstorming and Film Viewing
Show the students an image of Hillary Rodham Clinton in her white pantsuit.
Ask them if they have seen the image before and if they know why she is wearing white.
Explain how women suffragists wore white to symbolize their unity with other women. Ask the students to give other examples of how politicians employ political symbols.
Ask the students if they know of other women who have run for president. Explain to the students that they are going to be learning about Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.
Show a clip from the film The Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith (5:52 min.), also located at the top of this lesson plan.
Discuss the film clip or continue with Main Activity.
Main Activity: Timeline, Document Analysis, Discussion
Divide the class into four groups. Hand out a Document Analysis Worksheet (PDF) to each student.
Have students read “Background on Margaret Chase Smith” (PDF).
If there is time, have the students read the Click section “Women in Politics: A Very Short History.”
Tell them to find the entry for “1964: Margaret Chase Smith.” Have them click on the link to the Smith Library website.
When they are at the Smith Library website, have them look at the Smith Library Timeline.
Have each group examine the chronological list of events in the Smith Library Timeline.
Have the students return to the Click Timeline to search for other entries about Smith.
They will find “1950: Declaration of Conscience.”
Explain that Smith’s speech is considered one of the most remarkable political speeches of the 20th century. Bernard Baruch said that if a man had delivered it “he would have been the next President of the United States.
Have students read (or read together) and complete the Document Analysis Worksheet (PDF) on the Declaration of Conscience (PDF) speech.
Alternatively, have students write a summary of the speech.
Discuss the speech. Guiding questions include:
What does Smith define as the “basic principles of Americanism”?
What does Smith think is dividing the country?
What solution does she propose to create unity?
Why did the press cover this speech?
What was the result of this speech for Smith’s career?
What do you think being a woman meant to Smith’s political career? Did it help or hurt her advancement?
Extension Activity 1: Primary Document Comparison
Have the students compare Margaret Chase’s Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” (PDF) to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Wheeling Speech (PDF). McCarthy’s speech was a catalyst for Smith’s speech.
Extension Activity 2: Timeline Creation
Have students create a timeline of women in Congress and/or women who ran for president since 1920. Information can be found on Wikipedia. Images can be found on Google. A good timeline tool can be found at https://timeline.knightlab.com/.
Common Core Anchor Standards
Key Ideas and Details:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge:
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
You will find unique content in each chapter’s timeline.
Place the cursor over the timeline to scroll up and down within the timeline itself. If you place the cursor anywhere else on the page, you can scroll up and down in the whole page – but the timeline won’t scroll.
To see what’s in the timeline beyond the top or bottom of the window, use the white “dragger” located on the right edge of the timeline. (It looks like a small white disk with an up-arrow and a down-arrow attached to it.) If you click on the dragger, you can move the whole timeline up or down, so you can see more of it. If the dragger won’t move any further, then you’ve reached one end of the timeline.
Click on one of the timeline entries and it will display a short description of the subject. It may also include an image, a video, or a link to more information within our website or on another website.
Our timelines are also available in our Resource Library in non-interactive format.
Yellow bars mark entries that appear in every chapter
This icon indicates a book
This icon indicates a film
The idea of the “Click! moment” was coined by Jane O’Reilly. “The women in the group looked at her, looked at each other, and ... click! A moment of truth. The shock of recognition. Instant sisterhood... Those clicks are coming faster and faster. They were nearly audible last summer, which was a very angry summer for American women. Not redneck-angry from screaming because we are so frustrated and unfulfilled-angry, but clicking-things-into-place-angry, because we have suddenly and shockingly perceived the basic disorder in what has been believed to be the natural order of things.” Article, “The Housewife's Moment of Truth,” published in the first issue of Ms. Magazine and in New York Magazine. Republished in The Girl I Left Behind, by Jane O'Reilly (Macmillan, 1980). Jane O'Reilly papers, Schlesinger Library.