Mary Louise Smith devoted more than 60 years to improving the political process at the local, state and national level. A native of Eddyville, Iowa, 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. She served as the chair of the Republican National Committee from 1974 to 1977, the first woman to chair the committee and the only one until Ronna Romney McDaniel in 2017. 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.
While remaining active in politics after her tenure as party chair, 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.