Current Spotlight

Featured Montana women of this quarter:

(1811-1896) HARRIET BEECHER STOWE was credited by some to have ‘lit the spark that ignited the Civil War’, with her book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which portrayed the cruelty of slavery. She harbored fugitives from slavery in her home as part of the Underground Railroad, which inspired her to write the book that made her famous.

(1898-1986) ELSA GIDLOW has had the power to transform with a kind of magic, an affirmation of life as art, with her poetry, readings and teachings. She decided at a very early age to commit to life on her own terms. Her publishing house in CA is home base to connect to women’s centers & coffee houses where she is sought after for her vision & wisdom.

(1901-1978) MARGARET MEAD began her career when she visited Samoa at the age of twenty-three. She went on to become one of the most influential women of our time, publishing some forty works: “Coming of Age in Samoa”; “Growing up in New Guinea”; “Russian Culture”; “Sex & Temperament”.

(1906-2001) ANNE MORROW LINDBERGH reflected her views of the role women should play in the world. Her best-selling 1956 book, “Gift From The Sea”, presented eight inspirational essays concerning the meaning of a woman’s life. She received numerous honorary degrees from institutions of higher education & was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

(1910-1981) DOROTHY MCKENZIE dedicated her life to children’s literature. She loved libraries from the age of three & after 25 years of teaching, the Emperor Elementary School in San Gabriel, CA, dedicated its library to her in 1968, which she found a ‘humbling experience.’

Queen ‘Lili’ of Hawaii

Liliuokalani became queen in January of 1891 during a difficult period. Mass unemployment & severe economic depression had radicalized Hawaii, pitting the throne & its desperate supporters against the business community.  She ascended the throne determined to strengthen a monarchy which had lost much of its power & prestige during her brother’s reign. She envisioned the restored rights of the native Hawaiian.  Two years later, she was deposed & a provisional government established.

After ten days of fighting, the Royalists were defeated. What had begun on January 6, 1895, as an attempt to restore Queen Lili to the Hawaiian throne had ended in failure. The Queen was arrested & imprisoned in her former chamber of Iolani Palace. Here she must make a tragic decision: Should she sign the abdication paper as ordered? “For myself, I would have chosen death rather than to have signed it; but it was represented to me that by signing this paper all the persons who had been arrested, all my people now in trouble by reason of their love & loyalty towards me, would immediately be released.”  Liliuokalani signed.

In spite of their differences, the business community respected this competent woman & believed her to be well suited to reign. She was recognized for her philanthropic work among the needy & the lepers, although she was at the center of wealth & power.

Intelligent & aristocratic, Liliuokalani charmed world leaders & found friendship with such diverse people as Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, Grover Cleveland & Robert L. Stevenson.  She delighted Queen Victoria with a song she composed in honor of the Queen’s long reign.

From birth, music was an integral part of Lili’s life, & her frequent compositions were popular throughout the islands.  King Kamehameha V requested that she compose a national anthem & she completed it in one week.  Her most famous work was created in one evening, & was inspired by the somber parting of lovers. The song, “Aloha Oe”, spread quickly throughout the world & remains popular a century later.

Queen Liliuokalani died on January 11, 1917, at the age of 79. Although she never regained the throne, she was always “Queen of Hawaii” in the hearts of her people.

Wisdoms of Peace:

“Peace, she supposed, was contingent upon a certain disposition of the soul, a disposition to receive the gift that only detachment from ‘self’ made possible.”

(1900-1984) Elizabeth Goudge, English/American writer, from The Child from the Sea -1970

“For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

(1884-1962) Eleanor Roosevelt, American lecturer, humanitarian, from the Broadcast, Voice of America – 1951

“You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

(1917-1984) Indira Gandhi, Indian politician, quoted in Indira Speaks by Dhiren Mullick - 1972

1900-1930 "The New Woman"

Inheriting the fruits of their mother’s reform efforts, women in this generation renounced the bustles & flounces of the Victorian “angel of the house” & made themselves at home in the larger world. No longer viewed as delicate creatures who needed to be protected, some learned to ride bicycles, take up homestead claims in the West or go off to Europe on luxury liners to see the sights.  Some went overseas to drive ambulances or serve as nurses, clerks, or translators in the war.  After the war, some bobbed their hair, exposed a shocking amount of leg, or drank “bathtub gin”. Most women, however, continued to pursue the traditional roles of wife & mother.

One non-traditional woman who became famous during this era was Montana’s own Jeanette Rankin. It was partly through her efforts that women in Montana achieved suffrage in 1914. She was the first woman to serve in the US Congress and is still renowned for having voted against American’s entry into both World War I & World War II. 

World War I proved to be a watershed event in women’s history. The service of women during the War helped to further the cause of suffrage, convincing President W. Wilson that they deserved the vote. He said, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering, sacrifice & toil and not to a partnership of privilege & right?” In 1918, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote in national elections. In 1920, the Amendment had been ratified by all states & became law. Women now had the ability to control more of their lives by voting for individuals who represented their interests.

Technology was now how housework was done – utilities such as plumbing, gas lines, & electrical wiring were installed in homes, making possible the introduction of washing machines, hot water heaters, & vacuums. More women were in the work force, but in jobs that didn’t require much education or skill. ♀

1930-1946 (The Depression & WWII)

As the Great Depression settled on America, women lost many of the gains they’d made in employment during the previous few decades.  Jobs were scarce, and even the Federal Government concurred that what jobs there were should go to men, the traditional breadwinners.  Married women mended, patched, and remade clothes, prepared simple meals, and tried to keep their families together.  The birth rate fell as couples chose not to incur the expense of more children.  Young couples put off getting married because of the expense of housing and the uncertainty of what was ahead.  One bright spot in this gloomy picture was the motion picture industry which churned out light-hearted movies about an idealized wealthy upper class.  For a few cents and an hour or two of time, it was possible to escape into a world of top hats, lavish evening gowns, mansions, and chauffeured limousines.

The entry of the US into WWII changed all this.  Women were suddenly in demand on all fronts – as wives, as military personnel, and in factories that turned out weapons and materials for the armed services.  Young couples rushed to the altar to say their vows before the men shipped out.  The WACS and the WAVES enlisted female soldiers and sailors to perform non-combat duties and free up more men for fighting.  Women were recruited to work in skilled labor jobs that had previously been closed to them.  “Rosie the Riveters” went into the factories to work, earn decent wages, develop camaraderie with women from diverse backgrounds and experience a degree of independence unknown before.

Traditions were being shaken to the core, and many Americans worried that our whole societal fabric would break down if women didn’t devote themselves primarily to home and family.  But the fact was, the Victorian “angel of the house” was a less appealing role model for young women of the 1930’s and 40’s who had seen a little of the world and felt they could help to make it a better place.

More on the Women’s Suffrage Movement...


Women’s efforts during the Progressive Era significantly affected the lives of countless people and led to many luxuries we take for granted today – including clean water, trash collections, hot lunches at schools, public playgrounds, & public libraries.  The ‘protectors of the home’ were encouraged into the public sphere where they could exercise their moral authority over issues such as public sanitation & education which ultimately affected the home.  The Suffrage movement actually began in 1848, when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY.  For 50 years, supporters educated the public of the validity of women, under the leadership of such pioneers as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton, Carrie Chapman and Alice Paul. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was finally ratified. It was the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in our nation’s history, and it was ACHIEVED PEACEFULLY through democratic processes.

 "Power can be seen as power ‘with’ and not as power ‘over’. It can be used for competence and cooperation rather than dominance and control"
- Anne Barstow

Other Famous Suffrage Era Women:

Lucretia Mott helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, which marked the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first to demand the vote for women when at the Senerca Falls Convention, which shocked the entire convention.

Susan B. Anthony began her work in women’s movement in 1850.

Lucy Stone founded the Woman’s Journal which served as the voice of the women’s suffragist movement for 47 years. ♀

Museum of Women's History
2822 Third Avenue North LL 4
Billings, MT 59101
   (406) 248-2015