Montana women seized their right to vote in November 1914, when suffrage was extended to most women in the state. To help celebrate this important centennial, the Mansfield Library of the University of Montana created the exhibit, Leading the Way: Montana Woman Suffrage & the Struggle for Equal Citizenship. Cultural institutions across the Treasure State are hosting the exhibit and planning events to celebrate the centennial.
Many national suffrage supporters looked west for inspiration. Montana passed its suffrage referendum six years before it the 20th amendment to the US Constitution became the law of the land. The traveling exhibit “Leading the Way: Montana Woman Suffrage and the Struggle for Equal Citizenship” uses historic photographs, archival documents, and other rare materials to highlight the role that Montana women played in fulfilling the promise of democracy and their full rights of citizenship.
This exhibit will introduce you to fascinating individuals such as: Mary Long Alderson, who served simultaneously as the president of the Montana chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the recording secretary of the Montana State Suffrage Association, and successfully spearheaded the campaign to establish the bitterroot as Montana’s state flower in 1894. Mary B. Chappell, organizer of the Montana State Federal of Negro Women’s Clubs, who claimed “the rights of the minority” and opened a discussion of anti-lynching legislation at the group’s first meeting in 1921. Helen Piotopowaka Clarke, the daughter of a Scottish merchant and a Blackfeet mother, who served three terms as school supervisor in Helena. On her deathbed, she whispered: “Children should have nothing but the greatest admiration and the greatest respect, the greatest love and reverence for their teachers.” Hazel Hunkins, a graduate of Billings High School, who picketed the White House on behalf of woman suffrage during World War I. When she was arrested and jailed for her offense, she insisted on her innocence with the irrefutable logic: “Women cannot be law-breakers until they are lawmakers.” Jeannette Rankin, a graduate of the University of Montana, who went on to serve two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and vote against U.S. entry into both world wars. Women suffrage, she asserted, was “the most important question before the American people in our world struggle for democracy.”
This exhibit was developed with financial assistance from Humanities Montana, the American Association of University Women-Missoula, and the University of Montana’s African-American Studies Program, the University of Montana History Department, the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and the University of Montana’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.
View the exhibition between 10 AM to 5 PM, seven days per week at the museum. The museum is located at 118 W. Chinook, Livingston, Montana. Please call the museum, 406-222-4184, for more information. Youth are always free at the museum and special activities are geared toward children and their families.