Mary Louise Smith


"Mary Louise, by far, has reached her fullest potential and has scored her greatest achievements in political service." - Mary Tone, 1997

Mary Louise Smith rose through Republican party ranks to become the first woman to chair the party, serving in that capacity from 1974 to 1977. Since her tenure followed Watergate, Smith was faced with the task of rebuilding confidence in the Republican Party at a time when the nation's faith in the entire political system had diminished. A force in Republican politics for more than 30 years, Smith, of Des Moines, refuses to consider her election as the first female head of the GOP extraordinary. She explained, "A Women's role in politics is the same as that of a man." Born in Eddyville in 1914, Smith is a staunch supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and a leader in the Women's movement. She is one of six cofounders of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus. Smith was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1977.

UPDATE: Smith received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Iowa, the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice, and the Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Award, and was the first recipient of the Mary Louise Smith Award, established by the YWCA to honor individuals for outstanding efforts to eliminate racism. She held honorary doctoral degrees from Drake University and Grinnell College. Smith cofounded the Iowa Women's Archives and was a member of the Drake University Board of Trustees, United States Institute of Peace Board of Directors, and University of Iowa Foundation Board of Directors. Smith died in 1997.