Centennial Committee Celebrates 100 Years of Woman Suffrage in Montana
2014 is the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage in Montana, and a group of UM university faculty, staff, and students and Missoula community members comprising the ad hoc Centennial Committee want to make sure everyone knows it.
Diane Sands, a co-sponsor of the legislation to establish a women’s history mural in the state capitol, is a member of the Centennial Committee. It is important to understand the past, she explains, so that we all understand that, just like those who came before us, we have the capacity to take political action and change the course of history. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” she emphasizes that everyone must take responsibility for doing their part to “bend the arc of history toward justice.” And in “the dark moments,” when the current situation seems discouraging and change seems slow in coming, she adds, knowledge of how people in the past have had the courage to take action and a commitment to sustained activism can inspire later generations to continue the struggle for social justice. It is important to remember that “we make history,” Sands insists. “We are political actors not passive onlookers.”
To help all Montanans know more about the political actors of the past, the Centennial Committee is coordinating a variety of local and statewide projects through the UM Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
The Department of Archives and Special Collections at Mansfield Library is creating both physical and online exhibits documenting the history of women in Montana politics. This online exhibit features a timeline highlighting the role of women in Montana and University of Montana politics and political activities from 1882 to the present. The exhibit also includes a guide to collections by and about women held in Archives and Special Collections at the University of Montana's Mansfield Library. To view the exhibit, visit http://exhibits.lib.umt.edu/women-in-politics. The physical exhibit will go on display on the 4th floor of Mansfield Library later this month.
Donna McCrea, Head of Archives and Special Collections, enthuses: “We are thrilled to help celebrate the centennial of woman suffrage in Montana through our exhibitions highlighting the contributions of women and women’s organizations to our state and its people.”
The Women’s and Gender Studies Program is sponsoring “Wayback Wednesdays,” featuring images of women at the University of Montana, past and present. The weekly posts, which will focus on such themes as sports, student life, and student government, will be featured on the WGS Program’s Facebook page and website in March in honor of Women’s History Month.
Another Centennial Committee project is the creation of a traveling exhibit on the history of women, suffrage, and citizenship in Montana. Featuring archival photographs and rare documents, the exhibit will illuminate women’s political activism from Sacajawea’s participation in the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 to the Constitutional Convention of 1972.
Kayla Blackman, an M.A. candidate in History and Women’s and Gender Studies and the lead researcher and content developer for the traveling exhibit, reflects: "Celebrating the centennial of woman suffrage in Montana is important. Today we consider voting a fundamental right of living in a democracy. One hundred years ago, women fought for that right. They organized, protested, and ultimately succeeded in securing their own suffrage. This exhibit will hopefully remind Montanans what a great privilege it is to live in a democracy and encourage the political participation which women fought so hard to attain.”
“Leading the Way: Montana Woman Suffrage and the Struggle for Equal Citizenship” will go on display in the lobby of the Mansfield Library in March. After a tour to Butte, Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, and Helena, the exhibit will be donated to the Montana State Library and will be available to libraries, museums, and historical societies throughout the state, including those located at community colleges and tribal colleges.
Julie Biando Edwards, Ethnic Studies Librarian and Diversity Coordinator at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, comments: "I am especially excited because this exhibit will be donated to the Montana State Library. The State Library will be able to make it available to libraries around the state so that patrons in communities large and small can take part in the suffrage celebrations. This is really a wonderful collaboration between libraries and I am so pleased to be a part of something that will directly support public programming in Montana's libraries."
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program is establishing a speakers’ bureau of University of Montana faculty to provide free public lectures on Montana women’s history. Below is a listing of available lectures. For more information or to book a lecture, please contact the Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Sisterhood is Powerful”: Town-and-Gown Feminism in Missoula, Montana, ca. 1970-1990
Missoula activists played a vital role in the “second wave” of American feminism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Missoula feminists created a living legacy of enduring organizations, including the YWCA, WORD, the Women’s Resource Center, and Blue Mountain Clinic, among others. The vibrant feminist scene in Missoula mirrored that in other communities throughout the country; the history of women’s activism in Missoula is a microcosm of the women’s movement. One of the things that was unusual about Missoula feminism, however, was the degree to which activists on and off campus collaborated with one another during the heyday of the second wave, creating a distinctive “town-and-gown feminism.” Anya Jabour, Professor of History and Co-Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at UM, will draw upon both written records and personal interviews to share many highlights—and some challenges—of the intertwined histories of campus and community feminist organizations.
Alma Higgins: Conservationist Extraordinaire
Early conservationist Alma Higgins left a green legacy to Montana. Born and raised in Deer Lodge, Alma spearheaded the formation of a state forestry committee, lobbied for the establishment of the School of Forestry at the University of Montana, and called for the protection of a million acres of forest land as a “magnificent monument to the women’s clubs of Montana.” She actively promoted community forestry and campaigned for Arbor Day programs in public schools. Alma faced her biggest challenge when she moved to Butte in 1920. Undaunted by the city’s harsh industrial landscape, Alma launched a campaign for city beautification. She created urban gardens, started the Rocky Mountain Garden Club, and hosted her own weekly radio show on gardening. Ever the optimist, Alma launched National Garden Week – the third week in April – from Butte. Janet Finn, Professor of Social Work at UM, the author of Mining Childhood: Growing Up in Butte, Montana, 1900-1960, and co-editor of Motherlode: Legacies of Women’s Lives and Labors in Butte, Montana, offers a lively account of Alma Higgins’ life and legacy, replete with photos from Higgins’s vast collection of personal papers and memorabilia at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.
"Women and the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention”
Former legislator and local historian Diane Sands presents the story of 19 women who were elected to serve in the 1972 Constitutional Convention and the impact of the new Constitution on Montana women. Running without partisan designation, almost all of the women delegates were leaders of the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, and the Business and Professional Women. Sands highlights the central role of women in both calling the constitutional convention and ensuring its ratification.
"Lawyer and Balladeer of the Plains: The Story of Emily E. Sloan"
In 1924, in Carbon County, Emily Eva Mullenger Sloan was elected Montana’s first female county attorney by a slim margin of 33 votes. Just five years earlier, at the age of forty, Emily had become the twenty-second female attorney in Montana. She had not dreamed of becoming a lawyer; rather, she was an aspiring writer. Emily became a lawyer because her husband refused to pay for “a literary course” and convinced her that it would be more practical to become a lawyer. Despite her initial reluctance to become a lawyer, Emily devoted herself completely to succeeding as one. She was told that becoming involved in politics would help her establish herself as a lawyer, so she ran for state legislature, for county attorney, for district court judge, and for police judge, losing all of those races except her second one for County Attorney of Carbon County. She also continued to write, finishing one novel, hundreds of poems, and many short stories and essays during her lifetime. Bari Burke, a member of the faculty of the University of Montana School of Law since 1981, has been researching the lives of early women lawyers in Montana since 1991. One of her first "discoveries" was Emily Sloan, and she has been researching and writing about Emily's life ever since. Lately, she has been happily involved in a small group of women writing biographies of women.
In addition, the program is maintaining a calendar of events related to the Centennial on the Women’s and Gender Studies Program’s website on the events page, found here.
The Women’s and Gender Studies Program also is developing a women’s history walking tour of campus. The tour map, which will be available on the WGS website in March, will highlight such sites as Jeannette Rankin Hall and the Kim Williams Trail as well as the women’s sororities near campus. The Centennial Committee plans to include the walking tour in Homecoming activities in Fall 2014.
The History Department and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program are co-sponsoring the annual Maxine Van de Wetering “Women Making History” lecture for women’s history month. This year’s speaker, University of New Mexico Associate Professor of History Cathleen Cahill, will give a public presentation titled “Federal Mothers: What Happened When Women Went to Work in the U.S. Indian Service” on Thursday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in Gallagher Business Building 106. After the talk, Dr. Cahill will be available to sign her award-winning new book, Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933.
According to History Professor and Co-Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Anya Jabour, who chairs the committee, “What is so exciting about the Centennial Project is that so many people across campus and in the community are sharing their enthusiasm, ideas, and expertise.”
The Centennial Committee includes Anya Jabour, History/Women’s and Gender Studies (chair); Kayla Blackman, History; Julie Biando Edwards, Mansfield Library; Tobin Miller Shearer, History/African American Studies; Nancy Cooper, School of Music; Wilena Old Person, School of Pharmacy; Donna McCrea, Archives and Special Collections; Janet Finn, School of Social Work; Carlie Magill, Archives and Special Collections; and Diane Sands, president of the Missoula chapter of the American Association of University Women.
The Centennial Committee’s work in Missoula complements the “Women’s History Matters” project sponsored by the Montana Historical Society in Helena, which has created a blog on Montana women’s history http://montanawomenshistory.org which includes suggestions for community celebrations of the centennial of woman suffrage. The Missoula and Helena groups work together closely. Committee members Anya Jabour and Diane Sands sit on the Advisory Committee for the “Women’s History Matters” project, and Kayla Blackman is the project intern.
In conjunction with the Montana Historical Society, the Centennial Committee also is sponsoring an essay contest on Montana women’s history. Both undergraduate and graduate students at all colleges and universities throughout the state, including tribal colleges and community colleges, may submit essays based on original research in primary sources. In addition to cash prizes for the winners, the top essays will be considered for inclusion in a special issue of Montana: The Magazine of Western History and/or in an anthology produced by the Montana Historical Society Press. For more information visit http://montanawomenshistory.org/research/womens-history-matters-student-essay-competition/.