Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: The GOP, Women, and Mary Louise Smith

Posted at 9:06 am, May 14th, 2012
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

If Republicans are interested in starting to dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves with women, they might consider dedicating the coming GOP national convention, in Tampa, to the memory of Mary Louise Smith, the first female chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. She held the post from 1974 to 1977, and was the first woman to organize, and preside over, a national convention, in Kansas City, in 1976.

It would be a fitting remembrance of Mary Louise if organizers of this year’s convention festooned the Tampa convention hall with her picture. The party owes her that much or more. She worked tirelessly for it and for Republican candidates for decades, only to have her beloved party, near the twilight of her career in politics, turn its back on her. Her brand of moderate Republicanism made her so unwelcome she was denied credentials when the party met in San Diego in 1996. She was able to set foot on the convention floor only by borrowing an usher’s badge.

If anything, politics since then has become even more polarized. Right wingers nowadays would have to swallow hard to forgive her membership on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, though she owed her appointment to Ronald Reagan. They would also have to tolerate her support for Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. But that’s precisely the point. If the party is to convince women that it has turned over a new leaf, it must put out the welcome mat for women, like Mary Louise Smith, it had previously shunned.

Mary Louise Smith was treated shabbily by the party she contributed so much to. It would have been much better if the GOP had made amends during her lifetime. But a tribute to her now would be a worthwhile reminder that not too long ago Republican women were valued and honored.

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