The Power of Strong, Able Women: The League of Women Voters of Montana and Constitutional Reform

In 1972, Grace Bates, a Gallatin Valley delegate to Montana’s Constitutional Convention, identified herself in the required biographical sketch as “farmer’s wife, public servant.” A member of the League of Women Voters of Montana, she represented, literally, a league of mid-century Montana women whose capacity for informed and skilled political action changed the state’s governance. … Continue reading The Power of Strong, Able Women: The League of Women Voters of Montana and Constitutional Reform

“A Man in the Mountains Cannot Keep His Wife”: Divorce in Montana in the Late Nineteenth Century

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a series of economic and social changes culminated in a nationwide increase both in divorce rates and in the liberalization of divorce laws. This pattern played out in Montana on an even larger scale. Based on her extensive study of Montana divorces in the late nineteenth century, … Continue reading “A Man in the Mountains Cannot Keep His Wife”: Divorce in Montana in the Late Nineteenth Century

The Right to Procreate: The Montana State Board of Eugenics and Body Politics

In 1924, headlines across the state decried the “butchery of the helpless” at the Montana State Hospital for the Insane at Warm Springs, where eleven inmates were forcibly sterilized. Hospital staff responded that all sterilizations had received the required approval and that eugenics was “necessary to the future welfare of Montana.” Eugenics—the idea that “human … Continue reading The Right to Procreate: The Montana State Board of Eugenics and Body Politics

Two Legendary African American Homesteaders

Homesteading was hard work, but it offered single women a chance to become independent at a time when social mores made it difficult for women to be self-sufficient. Among the many single women who took this opportunity were two African American women who filed homestead claims and did well for themselves. Homesteading allowed Annie Morgan … Continue reading Two Legendary African American Homesteaders

“Be Creative and Be Resourceful”: Rural Teachers in the Early Twentieth Century

When Blanche McManus arrived to teach at a one-room schoolhouse on the south fork of the Yaak River in 1928, the school contained a table, boards painted black for a chalkboard, and a log for her to sit on. She had four students: a seventh-grade boy who quit when he turned sixteen later that year; … Continue reading “Be Creative and Be Resourceful”: Rural Teachers in the Early Twentieth Century

“She Spoke the Truth”: The Childhood and Later Activism of Lula Martinez

Born to Mexican immigrants Petra Ortega and Fidencio Acebedo in 1922, Lula Martinez grew up in Butte but left as a teenager for agricultural work in the Pacific Northwest. She returned over forty years later to work on behalf of the city’s impoverished and unemployed. Her memories of her childhood in Butte reveal the complex … Continue reading “She Spoke the Truth”: The Childhood and Later Activism of Lula Martinez

Defining Gender Equality: The Debate over the Equal Rights Amendment in Montana

When the U.S. Senate approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in March 1972, the next step—passage by two-thirds of state legislatures—seemed a formality. However, over the next decade, the battle over ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment revealed that America was still divided over equality between the sexes. In Montana the controversy over the ERA … Continue reading Defining Gender Equality: The Debate over the Equal Rights Amendment in Montana

The Women’s Protective Union

In what must have been an unusual sight on a June evening in 1890, thirty-three women walked into the Butte Miners’ Union hall. They were waitresses, dressmakers, milliners, and saleswomen, and they had gathered to organize a protective association for Butte’s women workers. As the Butte Daily Miner reported the following day, “The ladies of … Continue reading The Women’s Protective Union

“You Have to Take What They Send You Now Days”: Montana Women’s Service in World War II

Women have worked for the American military in every major conflict, but until World War II they were largely classified as “civilians” and denied the benefits extended to men in uniform. The creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp (later renamed the Women’s Army Corp) in 1942 represented the first step toward official recognition of … Continue reading “You Have to Take What They Send You Now Days”: Montana Women’s Service in World War II

“Becoming Better Citizens of Our Adopted Country”:  Montana’s Ethnic Women’s Groups

 “Thanksgiving Day is over and we have Women’s Meeting Sale at Elling Rogenes and it is quite enjoyable when there are so many Norwegians together,” Rakel Herein wrote in her daybook in 1917. Two years later, a March entry reads simply, “Have had Women’s Meeting. . . . Yes it was extremely delightful.” Herein arrived … Continue reading “Becoming Better Citizens of Our Adopted Country”:  Montana’s Ethnic Women’s Groups