It wouldn’t be Women’s History Month without recognizing some of the trailblazing women in Montana’s political history.
While you may be familiar with Jeanette Rankin – the first woman to serve in Congress four years before women achieved national suffrage – you may not know the same year Montana also seated the first two women in the state’s House of Representatives. Emma Ingalls, a Republican from Flathead County, and Maggie Smith Hathaway, a Democrat from Ravalli County. Though they represented opposing political parties, they both championed women’s suffrage.
Post World War II, women continued to see success in the world of electoral politics. Among these postwar women politicians was Ellenore Bridenstine of Terry, who in 1945 became the first woman state Senator. While reflecting on her decision to run for office, she said, “Many of my women friends felt that I was crazy to try for it. But I decided to try for it anyway just to see what would happen. The man holding the office had never campaigned, and I am sure that he felt he would not need to against a woman.”
Dolly Smith Cusker Akers became Montana’s first Native American legislator in the 1933-1934 legislative session. Representative Cusker Akers was not a women’s liberation advocate – she refused to acknowledge women’s limits. However, she did champion the rights of American Indians to determine their own destinies free from federal oversight and interference.
Last but absolutely not least, Governor Judy Martz was also Montana’s first Lieutenant Governor. Prior to her political career, Martz represented Montana and the United States as a member of the 1963 U.S. World Speed Skating Team, and a member of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team at the 1964 Winter Games.
We encourage you to read more about each of these trailblazers by clicking their names. To read even more about past and present Montana women leaders, visit our Women’s History Month blog post.