Monday, December 5, 2011

Ella Knowles Haskell

Ella Knowles faced formidable obstacles in pursuing a career in law. Upon statehood in 1889, a statute prohibited women from passing the bar. After much debate, Montana lawmakers amended the statute, thinking a woman could never pass anyhow. Knowles astounded them and passed with flying colors.

Ella Knowles Haskell, engraving from Progressive Men of the State of Montana, 1902

She became the first woman licensed to practice law in Montana. But acquiring clients was another matter. She tried in vain to convince Helena merchants to hire her as their bill collector. Finally, one merchant challenged her to retrieve all the umbrellas his rich customers had borrowed on rainy days. She returned every one. The merchant paid her two quarters, her first fee; she kept them for the rest of her life. Knowles practiced law until 1892, and then she ran on the Populist ticket for attorney general, the second woman in the nation to run for that office. She didn’t win—likely because women couldn’t vote. But her opponent, Henri Haskell, appointed her assistant attorney general after he won the election. Later they married and then divorced. Knowles practiced law in Butte until she died in 1911. In 1997, Ella Knowles Haskell was inducted into the Capitol’s Gallery of Outstanding Montanans.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

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