Monday, November 3, 2014

Celebrate Woman Suffrage Today!

When Congress created Montana Territory in 1864, women had few opportunities. Not only could they not vote, they could not work in most professions and could not attend most colleges. Some women were against woman suffrage because they believed it threatened traditional views. Belle Winestine of Helena, a great campaigner for women’s rights, explained the controversy this way: Men said, “Women’s place was in the home. Women are on a pedestal. Why should they come down and mix in ‘dirty politics?'” Well,” we women replied, “who made politics dirty and how many women who worked in factories or labored on the farm are on pedestals?”

Between 1869 and 1871, seven western legislatures considered giving women the vote. Montana was not one of them. Only Wyoming and Utah granted women the right to vote. Men dominated Montana Territory seven to one, and this is partly why suffrage was slow in coming. One small victory came in 1887 when an amendment to Montana’s territorial constitution gave women the right to vote for school trustees if they paid taxes in that district. An important “first” came about upon statehood in 1889 when Ella Knowles Haskell became Montana’s first female attorney and, in 1892, the first woman in Montana to run for public office.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 951-821
The Montana Woman Suffrage Association formed in 1895. Suffrage amendments repeatedly came before the Montana legislature. In 1911, Jeannette Rankin pled the cause. “Men and women are like right and left hands;” she said, “it doesn't make sense not to use both.” But the amendment failed again. Finally in 1913, Governor Sam Stewart took up the cause, and Montana’s suffrage amendment passed with only two dissenting votes in each house of the legislature. Put to public ballot on November 3, 1914, men voted 41,302 to 37,588 in favor of the suffrage amendment. Montana women won the right to vote in state elections and to hold state offices. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted all women citizens the right to vote in national elections.
Exercise your right to vote on November 4!

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