Martin of Maine
A Mother of Republican Women
by Jo Freeman
Published in Maine
Sunday Telegram, May 14, 2000, City Edition, p. C:3.
the unsung women who should be remembered on Mother's Day is the woman
most responsible for creation of the National Federation of Republican
Women. "A giant in her field" was how former Governor John
Reed described Marion Martin, who served her state as Commissioner
of Labor from 1947 to until her retirement in 1972.
E. Martin had no children of her own, but she put together a national
organization of Republican women's clubs in 1937 and nursed it for
ten years. In 1944 she estimated that she could mobilize one million
Republican women through the clubs in her federation. Today its 160,000
members make it the largest organization of political party women
in the country, whose presence will be pervasive at the Republican
National Convention this August.
spent her life in politics, where she was known for her thorough preparation
and distinctive hats. Merton Henry, a long-time Republican activist
who knew her as a child could see her potential even then. She was
"a pioneer for women in politics" he said recently, who
inherited her commitment to public service from her mother. Florence
McLaughlin Martin worked for numerous causes and thought her daughter
would make a fine legislator. In 1930, soon after graduating from
Wellesley College, Miss Martin was elected to the Maine House. She
served two terms there and two in the Senate.
better do her job Martin took courses at the University of Maine between
legislative sessions. When she found herself chairing the Senate's
legal affairs committee -- the first non lawyer to do so -- she commuted
to Yale to take classes in the law school. There, one of her professors
recruited her to work for the Republican National Committee.
the 1936 Roosevelt landslide there were only 89 Republicans in the
U.S. House, 16 in the U.S. Senate, and six Republican Governors. In
only a few years the Republican Party had gone from the majority party
to one that could barely qualify as serious opposition. The new RNC
Chairman, John D. M. Hamilton, decided to rebuild it into a "loyal
opposition," with regular funding, professional staff, and an
ongoing program. In 1937 he asked the new National Committeewoman
from Maine to become the assistant chairman for women's activities
with the task of organizing Republican women.
women's clubs had been campaigning for their party for over fifty
years, but they went their own way and did not co-ordinate their work.
After meeting with the other National Committeewomen, Martin put together
the National Federation of Women's Republican Clubs (NFWRC), with
herself at its head and invited the existing clubs to join. Within
a year clubs with 100,000 members had affiliated.
the next ten years Martin cultivated the Federation, traveling widely,
writing pamphlets, and creating a structure through which every Republican
woman who wanted to work could find a place in the party. She saw
the clubs as a training ground for Republican women, teaching them
political skills even while it put them to work for Republican candidates.
By 1946, her federation had 400,000 members through its clubs.
not a feminist, she used her position to lobby for women, urging Republican
governors to appoint them to state offices, pushing state parties
to give them more seats to national conventions, and urging women
to run for office. In 1945 she told the RNC that "there are in
many instances at the present time a seething and a boiling on the
part of the women because they feel they have been given the doorbell
ringing jobs to do, but are never given a voice."
the next November elections the Republican Party gained control of
both houses of Congress for the first time since 1928. The new RNC
Chairman, Carroll Reece, fired Marion Martin. According to one report
he "walked into Miss Martin's office" and said: "You
have enemies on the committee. I want harmony here; I will appreciate
it if you would sever your connection with us as rapidly as possible."
While Martin never publicly gave a reason for her sudden departure,
she appeared to be casualty of the GOP's faction fights.
for her organizational skills in both parties, Martin was proposed
to President Truman for appointment to the Federal Communications
Commission, which had to be bipartisan. However, the Director of the
Democratic Women's Division, India Edwards, vetoed her because she
didn't want Truman's first female appointee to be a Republican.
Martin returned to Maine, becoming Commissioner of Labor. She earned
a reputation for her innovative approach to labor problems and the
respect of both industry and organized labor, Democrats as well as
Republicans. "She was unique for her time and place," Merton
said. He described her as "an exceedingly gracious and intelligent
the meantime, her creation did not take lightly to the removal of
its founding mother. After Martin was fired, the NFWRC began to cut
the umbilical cord of the RNC. In 1952, it reorganized and renamed
itself the National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW), with its
own elected President and Board of Directors.
Photo of Marion Martin courtesy of the National Federation of Republican Women