The Des Moines Human Rights Commission announced today that Attorney Lori Chesser has been selected as a recipient of the Commission's "Mary Louise Smith Award."
Rudy Simms, Director of the Des Moines Human Rights Commission, wrote," This is indeed a great honor and Lori is well deserving in joining a prestigious list of honorees that have received this award over the years!"
The Award will be presented at the 21st Annual Symposium April 18th at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.
Mary Louise Smith (October 6, 1914-August 22, 1997) was a U.S. political organizer and women's rights activist.
Born Mary Louise Epperson in Eddyville, Iowa, she married medical student Elmer M. Smith while both were studying at the University of Iowa. She graduated in 1935 with a degree in social work administration and worked for the Iowa Employment Relief Administration in Iowa City.
After moving to Eagle Grove she became active in civic life and Republican Party politics. She became membership chair of the Iowa Council of Republican Women in 1961 and was elected vice-chairman of the Wright County Republican Central Committee the following year. She was elected national committeewoman for Iowa in 1964, a post she held for the next twenty years.
In 1974, during the wake of the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford named her the first, and as of 2005 the only, female chairman of the Republican National Committee. She held that post until 1977, and in that role became the first woman of either major party to organize a presidential nominating convention, the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City.
She campaigned for George H. W. Bush in the 1980 primaries, but supported Ronald Reagan both in the 1980 and 1984 general elections. Reagan appointed her vice-chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1981, but declined to re-appoint her in 1984. Smith was a social liberal, while the party and the electorate was shifting to the right.
Smith was active in such organizations as the Republican Mainstream Committee, Iowa Women's Political Caucus, U.S. Peace Institute, and Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. She was a staunch advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1995, Iowa State University established the Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics in her honor, and numerous other awards and recognitions are named for her throughout the state.
Smith died of lung cancer in Des Moines at the age of 82. A widow, she was survived by three children.