Owned by the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation and operated under its auspices by the University of Maine.

Building Social Capital:
A Lifetime of Civic Engagement

The years between Margaret Chase's birth and the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 coincided with the most remarkable expansion of social capital institutions in the nation's history. Virtually every aspect of American society participated in the creation of civic associations and organizations. This unprecendented burst of social and civic engagement deeply affected Margaret as she grew to adulthood. In fact, it became an ingrained element of her life. Her efforts to build social capital became the cornerstone of a political career dedicated to public service and civic engagement. Margaret Chase Smith forged a lifetime of dedication to the essence of "building social capital," doing things with people.


Robert Putnam, in his work Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, explains the definition and benefits of Social Capital as follows:

  • Social capital refers to networks of social connections - doing things with people. Doing good for other people, however laudable, is not part of the definition of social capital.
  • Social networks provide the channels through which we recruit one another for good deeds, and social networks foster norms of reciprocity that encourages attention to other's welfare.
  • Social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily.
  • Social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly. Where people are trusting and trustworthy, and where they are subject to repeated interactions with fellow citizens, everyday business and social transactions are less costly.
  • Social capital improves our lot by widening our awareness of the many ways in which our fates are linked.
Red Cross

A nineteen year old Margaret Chase stands in front of the Red Cross Headquarters in Skowhegan in 1917. Her volunteer activities held special meaning for her; seventeen Skowhegan boys died in World War I.
Business and Professional 
Women's Club

Margaret Madeline Chase as President of the Maine Business and Professional Women's Club in 1927.

Margaret Chase helped form the Skowhegan Chapter of the BPW in 1924 and was elected president of the Maine BPW two years later. She maintained her association with the BPW throughout her lifetime, acting as hostess, speaker, and officer in town and district groups.

"In a world of civic networks, both formal and informal, our views are formed through interchange with friends and neighbors. Social capital allows political information to spread."
-- Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone


Congressional Club's
Woman of the Year

Soon after Clyde Smith's election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1936 and their subsquent move to Washington, D.C., Margaret joined the Congressional Club, a social group for the wives of Congressmen. This club helped her understand the complex social etiquette required of a Congressional wife. Senator Smith credited the Congressional Club with helping ease her transition into her own congressional office.

Margaret Chase 
Smith with Alice Keith

Margaret Chase Smith recognized her need to polish her approach to societal interactions in Washington. On December 27, 1938, she enrolled with Alice Keith, director of the National Academy of Broadcasting. Ms. Keith coached her in public speaking and radio delivery, and assisted her in developing her trademark ease in all forms of social interaction.

An extraordinary burst of civic activity occurred during World War II. Carrying aluminum pots and pans, Republican Congresswomen Margaret Chase Smith, Edith Nourse Rogers, and Frances Bolton, assisted by Boy Scouts, participated in the "tea kettles for airships" drive of the Civilian Defense Office in July, 1941. The newspaper caption at the time stated that the women were "giving up part of their kitchen equipment to be made into bigger and better bombers."
Spelling Bee

Congresswomen Jessie Sumner (R-IL), Clare Booth Luce (R-CT), Frances Bolton (R-OH), and Margaret Chase Smith representing the women members of Congress, gather around House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas prior to taking part in a spelling bee against their male counterparts at the National Press Club in October, 1943. The women carried off the honors in the old fashioned bee as their eight misspellings fell one shy of the nine committed by their rivals. Margaret Chase Smith easily handled "ichthyology" but had trouble with "Albuquerque."

It was in luncheons that civic skills were honed and genuine
give-and-take deliberation occurred. Margaret Chase Smith
was very successful at converting opportunities for building
social capital into political gain.
Maine State Society

Margaret Chase Smith and Senator Ralph Owen Brewster at the Maine State Society's annual Lobster Dinner on February 22, 1946 held in the U.S. Interior Department's cafeteria.

Founded in 1894 as the Maine State Association, the original purpose of the group was to maintain a home away from home for Mainers in the Capital, keep alive a sense of Maine roots, and to boost the image of the state. Its primary purpose was to provide for and strengthen the social contacts of its members. In 1940, the group was reorganized as The Maine State Society when FDR's New Deal and preparations for war brought many new Maine residents to Washington. At the time of her death in 1995 Margaret Chase Smith was the last charter member of the rejuvenated 1940 Society.

Social Capital Exhibit

Elder statesman Bernard Baruch is the center of attention at a Washington, D.C. dinner party. However, his own center of attention was U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who he said is one of the few Republicans he admires. . ." read the original caption in the Portland Press Herald on January 31, 1950. After her "Declaration of Conscience" speech on June 1, 1950, Baruch stated that if a man had spoken her words "he would be the next President."

Margaret Chase Smith was very successful at converting opportunities for building social capital into political gain. Beginning in the mid-forties she impressed Baruch disciples James Forrestal, Ferdinand Eberstadt, and Maine's Clifford Carver with her insights on domestic and foreign policies. She successfully parlayed these contacts into achievements such as the Armed Services Integration Act that granted women permanent status in the military. Her work on the House Naval Affairs Committee and her support for international organizations such as the United Nations so impressed these leading statesmen of the early Cold War years that she was appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1953.

Senator Smith built social capital with youngsters
throughout her lifetime. Through her own example, she hoped
to inspire young people to ASPIRE and to SERVE.
Jimmy Fund

For many men in their twenties and thirties, volunteering often involved coaching Little League, an organization founded in 1939 by Carl E. Stotz. Coaches and players alike engaged in activities beyond the playing field that helped expand social capital, including fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Jimmy Fund. In 1948, the Jimmy Fund was created following a visit by members of the Boston Braves baseball team to a young Maine cancer patient named Einar "Jimmy" Gustafson. Senator Smith is pictured in September 1953 supporting the cause by making a donation to Skowhegan native and current Margaret Chase Smith Library neighbor Colin Quinn. That year the Jimmy Fund became the official charity of the Boston Red Sox after the Braves moved to Milwaukee.
Three Little Bears

Senator Smith rehearses her reading of "The Three Bears" in preparation for Ernie Tannens "Storytime" radio broadcast on WGAY in July 1951.

Deering High School and Portland High School students on the steps of the Capitol in April 1953.

It only makes sense that school children who are studying civics and government should be permitted to see and hear their public officials. What they read in textbooks about their government and their public officials takes on more real meaning when they see and hear some of them in person. I never talk partisan politics with the school groups. Instead, I talk about their responsibilities as citizens, how they are going to take over the reigns of government in the future, and how the Senate is run.
--Margaret Chase Smith
"Washington and You" newspaper column
September 11, 1955
Bangor News

On April 10, 1962, some of the one hundred Bangor Daily News carriers whose participation in a circulation contest earned them a trip to Washington, DC, Gettysburg, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia met with Margaret Chase Smith for a tour of the Capitol. Dressed in Bangor Daily News shirts and outfitted with new carrier bags, the Sunrisers, as they were called visited the offices of all Senators and Representatives where they left copies of the Bangor Daily special editions, State of Maine brochures, five-pound packages of Maine potatoes from the State Department of Agriculture, and packages of sardines fomr the Maine Sardine Council.

"Newspaper readership remains a mark of substantial civic engagement. Newspaper readers are older, more educated, and more rooted in their communities than is the average American... Regular newspaper readers belong to more organizations, participate more actively in clubs and civic associations, attend local meetings more frequently, vote more regularly, volunteer and work on community projects more often, and visit with friends more frequently and trust their neighbors more."
-- Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone


Senator Smith takes time out from her Congressional duties to christen the symbolic four millionth house built in the United States since World War II. The sign indicates that ninety thousand homes had been established in Washington alone. This house in Bethesda, Maryland was completed in June, 1950. At left is Edward R. Carr, representative of the Home Builder's Association of Metropolitan Washington.

"At the neighborhood level social capital is a marketable asset for homeowners. A Pittsburgh study found that, other things being equal, neighborhoods with high social capital were far less likely to decline than were low-social-capital areas. In areas where residents vote, sustain vibrant neighborhood associations, feel attached to their neighborhood, and see it as a good place to live, other people want to move in, and housing values remain comparatively high."
-- Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone
Camp Lejeune

Senator Smith enjoys ice cream at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. May 27, 1944.

Hollywood Canteen

Margaret Chase Smith serves refreshments to the service men at the Hollywood Canteen in 1943.

Yankees Game

Senator Smith enjoys a New York Yankees game with President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 10, 1967.

Whether in assisting the American Red Cross by wrapping bandages
during World War I, or by organizing the Skowhegan chapter of the
Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women during the
twenties, or through her active participation in the Congressional Club,
founded in 1908, after she accompanied her husband Clyde to Washington, DC
during the mid-thirties, or through her work on various House and
Senate committees, or by meeting with school groups,
Margaret Chase Smith forged a lifetime of dedication to the
essence of "building social capital," doing things with people.

100 Things YOU Can Do to Build Social Capital


List of Resources
Bowling Alone


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This page last modified: December 2013