March is Women’s History Month. It’s a time to celebrate, honor and study the historic contributions that women have made to our state and nation. This year, I was pleased to sponsor legislation honoring Samantha Smith, a young Mainer and peace activist who became known as “America’s Youngest Ambassador.” The bill would rename Exit 45 “Samantha Smith Way,” in honor of Samantha Smith who spoke up for peace between the United States and the USSR at the height of the Cold War.

Anne Carney

At the Transportation Committee’s public hearing, Maine Veterans for Peace members who brought this idea forward provided testimony in support. An eighth-grade student from Brunswick, who just completed an extensive research project on Samantha Smith, also spoke powerfully about her impact. She said, “[Samantha’s] efforts helped lead to better relations between our nations and many others, which inspired children across the country. Naming this approach road after her would continue her legacy and further her message in a time very similar to hers.”

Once the public hearing closed, the committee moved into a work session and unanimously supported renaming Maine Turnpike Approach Road as Samantha Smith Way.

Samantha Smith was a young Mainer who became an advocate for peace during a time of great tension between the USA and the USSR. In the fall of 1982, 10-year-old Samantha, a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary School, read a Time magazine story about Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and the threat of nuclear war. She asked her mother: “If people are so afraid of him, why doesn’t someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?” Her mother replied, “Why don’t you?”

Here is the letter she wrote:

Dear Mr. Andropov,


My name is Samantha Smith. I am 10 years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like it if you would. Why do you want to conquer the world or at least our country? God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please let’s do what he wanted and have everybody be happy too.

Samantha Smith

She did not receive a response, so she wrote to Soviet ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin asking if Yuri Andropov intended to respond. Due to her persistence, Samantha received a reply and an invitation to visit the Soviet Union in the summer of 1983 as a guest of the Soviet leader. She and her parents spent two weeks traveling in the Soviet Union, getting to know children and adults in many parts of that country.

Samantha Smith with a letter she received from Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov in 1983. Cheryl Denz photo/Kennebec Journal

Her kind, direct and inquisitive nature, contagious optimism, and genuine interest in learning about others, created a bond between everyday people in the two nations, and inspired many to believe war between the two superpowers could be averted. Through her bold action, Samantha inspired Maine children – and many adults as well – to speak up on issues of importance in their lives.

Sadly, she died just two years later in a plane accident. Naming South Portland’s well-traveled approach ramp after Samantha Smith will preserve the memory of this remarkable young Mainer and, I hope, inspire great conversations on family road trips about the importance of speaking up for what you believe in and trying to make the world a better place.

Happy Women’s History Month to strong girls and women everywhere. May we be them, raise them, and celebrate them.

Anne Carney represents Maine Senate District 29, which consists of Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough. She can be reached at 207-287-1515 or

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