Mary Louise Smith Chair

The Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics was announced by Iowa State University in October 1995 to honor the Iowa native and longtime political and civic leader. Mary Louise Smith - the first and only woman to chair the Republican National Committee - was a mentor, friend and role model to many in the world of politics and civic, government and community affairs.

The purpose of the chair is to bring nationally renowned political leaders, scholars and activists to Iowa State University to enrich the experiences of students and educate citizens about the role of women in the political process.

Following in the footsteps of Mary Louise, the chair serves as an inspiration and role model for students as well as other members of the university community and citizens of the state of Iowa.

Mary Louise Smith

Mary Louise Smith

Mary Louise Smith, the first and only woman to chair the Republican National Committee, devoted more than 60 years to improving the political process at the local, state and national level. A native of Eddyville, IA, Smith began working in politics in the 1950s in Eagle Grove. Although she twice ran for and won a seat on the Eagle Grove School Board, she decided that the organizational work of politics most appealed to her.

In 1964, Smith was elected as Republican national committeewoman for Iowa and served until 1984. In 1976, Smith became the first woman to organize and call to order a national presidential nominating convention of a major U.S. political party. She served as the chair of the Republican National Committee from 1974-1977.

While remaining active in politics, Smith also began working in a wide range of civic, government and community affairs. She was a founding member of the Iowa Women's Political Caucus, Iowa Peace Institute and Iowa Women's Archives. Smith served as a board member, director or trustee of the Alliance for Arts and Understanding, the Chrysalis Foundation, Des Moines Human Rights Commission, Drake University, Republican Mainstream Committee, University of Iowa Foundation, Robert A. Taft Institute of Government, Hoover Presidential Library Association, Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa, National Women's Political Caucus, National Conference on Christians and Jews, and the U.S. Peace Institute.

Throughout her work, Smith was praised for her grace, intellect and integrity and for her commitment to fairness, human rights and equal opportunity. She was the epitome of a political leader and community activist, inspiring others to work to improve the political process, government and society. A longtime resident of Des Moines, Iowa, Smith died on August 22, 1997, at the age of 82. Obituary