FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women

New-Operator

Helen, an operator at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, in 1925, from the new book Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

 

When I got to the third paragraph of a new book from the Montana Historical Society Press, I was hooked.

Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams: Montana Women’s Stories is a collection of 98 short pieces about notable women or topics germane to the history of women in Montana. The first piece is titled “Nineteenth-Century Indigenous Women Warriors,” and here’s that third paragraph:

One especially fearless warrior was Kaúxuma Núpika, a Kootenai woman who was also a cultural intermediary and prophet. In 1808, young Kaúxuma Núpika married a Frenchman working for explorer David Thompson. She was so rowdy that Thompson exiled her from his camp. She divorced her husband, claimed to have been changed into a man, and then took a succession of wives.

That’s not just a paragraph, it’s virtually an elevator pitch for a Hollywood movie. There are many other priceless vignettes in this book, which was edited by Martha Kohl, with contributions from 14 other writers.

We learn of Ella Knowles, the first woman licensed to practice law in Montana, way back in 1889, the year of statehood. Just three years later, Knowles ran on the Populist ticket for attorney general. She lost to Henri Haskell, her Republican opponent, but he was so impressed with Knowles that he appointed her assistant attorney general and then married her in 1895.Beyond-Book

“In 1902,” the story continues, “when Henri decided to move to Glendive, Knowles, always sure of her own direction, chose not to follow and divorced him. Taking back her maiden name, she moved to Butte, where she owned mining property, and became an expert in mining litigation.”

Or how about Sarah Gammon Bickford, who was born a slave in the mid-1850s and ended up as the sole owner of the Virginia City Water Co., “the first and only woman in Montana—and probably the nation’s only female African American—to own a utility.”

Then there is Caroline McGill, an Ohioan who was a beloved physician in Butte for many years and later was instrumental in the creation of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. She decided to take a job at Murray Hospital in Butte after having been offered a full professorship at the University of Missouri.

Explaining her decision in a letter to her family, she said: “I’ll tell you right now I am making the biggest fool mistake to go … but I’m going. … Feels sort of funny to stand off and serenely watch myself commit suicide, [but] I’ll just have to let her rip.”

That attitude of indomitable pluckiness is displayed again and again by the women in this book, many of whom didn’t have nearly the number of advantages enjoyed by Dr. McGill.

Kohl explains in the introduction that this book grew out of the Historical Society’s yearlong “Women’s History Matters” project in 2014, to coincide with the centennial of women’s suffrage in Montana. And though suffrage and related matters get plenty of ink, Kohl said, “we wanted to use the centennial as a springboard to tell a broader, more inclusive story.”

That they did. I was amazed, and then a little embarrassed, to learn for the first time of so many fascinating women. And not a one of them seems to have been wedged in to satisfy notions of political correctness. These are people all Montanans—especially Montanans like my three daughters—should be aware of.

The writing is strong throughout and the book was impeccably edited and proofread. Between them, Annie Hanshew and Laura Ferguson wrote nearly two thirds of the pieces. Ferguson, who has a master’s degree in Native American Studies from Montana State University, deserves special mention because nearly all her contributions are about Indian women.

From that opening piece about Kaúxuma Núpika and other indigenous warriors to the last chapter, on Elouise Cobell, the Blackfoot woman who was the lead plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ferguson’s work is invaluable and invariably interesting.

Two other women deserve special mention: sisters Frieda Fligelman and Belle Fligelman Winestine. Born in Helena, these two Jewish women were involved in so many of the struggles of the Progressive Era that a summary is almost impossible. And while they get their own chapter, they appear over and over in other chapters as well, because their histories are so intertwined with other characters in this book. What a pair!

The book tilts heavily toward women involved in liberal or progressive causes, but as the bumper sticker has it, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” The women who battled against discrimination, violence, condescension and neglect are the ones who ultimately deserve our respect and who deserve to be better known.

This piece first appeared at Last Best News.

More articles by:

Ed Kemmick lives in Billings, Montana and edits LastBestNews.com

March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail