In a watershed moment 100 years ago, on Nov. 3, 1914, Montana men decided to allow women to vote. The landmark decision split 53 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed and made Montana the 10th state in the U.S. to approve equal voting rights for non-native women, well before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. (Native American women would not earn the right to vote until passage of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act.)
The fight for women’s suffrage dated back to the 1840s, when women’s rights slowly began gaining a foothold in the American psyche thanks to the tireless efforts of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The movement made particular progress in the American West, and in 1890 Wyoming became the first state to give women the vote, followed shortly by Colorado (1893), Utah (1896) and Idaho (1896).
While Montana was establishing itself as a state in 1889, the first attempts were made to allow women the right to vote through the state’s first constitution. The effort fell short but carried forward, gaining steam with the help of Flathead County’s Emma Ingalls, a Republican feminist who founded the Kalispell Inter Lake with her husband. Ingalls became an outspoken champion of women’s rights and civic reform across Montana. Perhaps in part due to her influence, voters in Northwest Montana almost entirely swung in favor of the divisive proposal.
In Flathead County, 61 percent of the voters — 1,830 — supported women’s suffrage, one of the highest tallies in the state, according to historical data organized by the Women’s History Matters Project, a website created to commemorate the 100th anniversary.
Two years after the milestone, Ingalls rightfully became one of the first two women elected to the state’s House of Representatives, alongside Maggie Smith Hathaway, a Democrat from Ravalli County.
Montana didn’t stop there — on Nov. 7, 1916, voters made Jeannette Rankin of Missoula the first woman elected to Congress. She earned Montana’s at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“As the state that elected Jeannette Rankin, the very first woman ever elected to Congress, Montana has a rich history of supporting women’s suffrage,” Gov. Steve Bullock said this week.
“On this the 100th Anniversary of women’s suffrage in Montana, Montanans should be proud of our past and continue to work to ensure all Montanans have access to a defining right of our democracy – a right so many fought for – the right to participate in choosing our leaders.”
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