Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Legacy of Lily Toole, Montana’s First First Lady

Springtime in Helena brings to mind Lily Toole and the gift she left her adopted community. Lily was a gentle soul. Born to the prominent family of Brigadier General William Stark Rosecrans of Civil War fame, Lily grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a devoutly Catholic family. The general’s brother was a Catholic bishop, and three of Lily’s siblings entered the religious life. On May 5, 1890, Lily married Joseph Kemp Toole, governor of the new state of Montana. The small, private wedding took place at the parsonage of St. Matthew’s Church in Washington, D.C. The New York Times explained that Governor Toole was not a Roman Catholic, and there was not time to obtain the dispensation required for a wedding in the Catholic Church. The service was informal. Lily wore a dark green traveling dress trimmed with elaborate black braiding and a black straw turban embellished with ribbons and velvet. Her father and two friends were the only guests. After a brief seaside honeymoon, the newlyweds were at home in Helena at 102 S. Rodney Street. Lily settled into her role as Montana’s first lady, but she was first and foremost a devoted mother.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 945-340
The Tooles’ first son, Rosecrans, named for his famous grandfather, was born in 1891. The couple had two more children, Edwin Warren in 1893 and Joseph Porter in 1896. In the yard of the Rodney Street house, Lily planted an apple tree for each boy, and she planted lilacs to remind her of Ohio. In 1898, when Rosecrans was seven, he was visiting his aunt and grandfather when he died of diphtheria. Two of the apple trees Lily planted for her boys still live. It is not known which of the three had a shorter lifespan. During his second term, Governor Toole presided over every interior detail during the building of Montana’s State Capitol. But the governor’s wife was the landscaping consultant. Lily saw to it that many lilac bushes were planted on the grounds. While those have since been removed, her lilacs still bloom in the yard on Rodney Street. From those bushes, cuttings produced many more. During that brief time every spring when lilacs spread their sweetness all over Helena, remember Lily Toole.

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