History of Montana - Women


In Montana, very few single men attempted to operate a farm or ranch; farmers clearly understood the need for a hard-working wife, and numerous children, to handle the many chores, including child-rearing, feeding and clothing the family, managing the housework, feeding the hired hands, and, especially after the 1930s, handling the paperwork and financial details

Efforts to write woman suffrage into Montana's 1889 constitution failed. Montana women, especially "society women," did not strongly support the suffragists. However, help from national leaders and the efforts of Montana supporters of suffrage such as Jeannette Rankin (1880–1973), led to success in 1914 when voters ratified a suffrage amendment passed by the legislature in 1913. In 1916, Rankin, a Republican, became the first woman ever elected to Congress. She was elected again in 1940. Rankin was a peace activist, who voted against American entry into both World War I and World War II.

The status of women in the 19th-century West has drawn the attention of numerous scholars, whose interpretations fall into three types: 1) the Frontier school influenced by Frederick Jackson Turner, which argues that the West was a liberating experience for women and men; 2) the reactionists, who view the West as a place of drudgery for women, who reacted unfavorably to the isolation and the work in the West; and 3) those writers who claim the West had no effect on women's lives, that it was a static, neutral frontier. Cole (1990) uses legal records to argue that Turner thesis best explains the improvement in women's status in Montana and the early achievement of suffrage.

Women's clubs expressed the interests, needs, and beliefs of middle class women around the start of the 20th century. While accepting the domestic role established by the cult of domesticity, their reformist activities reveal a persistent demand for self-expression outside the home. Homesteading was a significant experience for altering women's perceptions of their roles. They expressed their aesthetic interests in gardens, and organized social activities. Though these clubs allowed women to fulfill their traditional roles they also encouraged women to pursue social, intellectual, and community interests. Women took an active role in the Progressive Movement, especially in battles for suffrage, prohibition, better schools, church activities, charity work, and crime reduction.

Childbirth was serious and sometimes life threatening for rural women well into the 20th century. Although large families were favored by farm families, most women employing birth control methods to space their children and limit their family size. Pregnant women had little access to modern knowledge about prenatal care. Delivery was the big gamble; the great majority gave birth at home, with the services of a midwife or an experienced neighbor. Despite the increased availability of hospital care after the 1920s, modern medical benefits to mitigate the danger of childbirth were not available to most rural Montana women until the World War II era.

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Famous quotes containing the word women:

    All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
    Their women cluck like starved pullets,
    Dying for love.
    James Wright (1927–1980)

    To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it and read it are old women over their tea.
    Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

    I change, and so do women too;
    But I reflect—which women seldom do.
    Tobacco is a filthy weed,
    That from the devil doth proceed;
    That drains your purse, that burns your clothes,
    That makes a chimney of your nose.
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