Briefly Noted: ‘Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams: Montana Women’s Stories’

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Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams: Montana Women’s Stories, edited by Martha Kohl (Montana Historical Society Press: May 2016), 288 pages, over 100 photographs.

MHSscboolmarmsWhen the histories of the west we studied in high school were written, the emphasis was on great men, both saints and devils, and what they did. We’re slowly finding out there was more to the story; this new book edited by Martha Kohl is part of our re-education. (I’m not sure why the cover photograph shown on Amazon has a slightly different subtitle than the book’s listing or the cover as shown on the MHS site.)

From the Publisher:

“Sheriff Garfield had just been elected to a second term in 1920 when he was fatally shot. His wife Ruth, a ranching woman with a young son, set aside her grief to serve out her husband’s term. She was Montana’s first female sheriff and served two years.

“Stories like Ruth Garfield’s fill the pages of Beyond Schoolmarms and Madams: Montana Women’s Stories. The women featured in this book range from late eighteenth-century Indian women warriors to twenty-first century Blackfeet banker Elouise Cobell. They span geography―from the western Montana women who worked for the Forest Service, to Miles City doctor Sadie Lindeberg. And they span ideology―from the members of the Montana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, who led the fight for laws banning segregation in public accommodations, to the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. With grit and foresight, these women shaped Montana.”

From the Great Falls Tribune:

Telephone operators worked at hotels as well as at exchanges. Photographed here is Helen (last name unknown), an operator at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park in 1925. At the time, park concessionaires often required their Blackfeet employees–including bus drivers and telephone operators—to dress in “traditional” clothing to appeal to eastern tourists. Bain News Service, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Telephone operators worked at hotels as well as at exchanges. Photographed here is Helen (last name unknown), an operator at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park in 1925. At the time, park concessionaires often required their Blackfeet employees–including bus drivers and telephone operators—to dress in “traditional” clothing to appeal to eastern tourists. Bain News Service, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

“Historian Martha Kohl edited the project, which grew from the MHS Women’s History Matters project marking 100 years of women’s suffrage in the state. Kohl started informally asking people to name 10 women in Montana history.

“Even the best educated seemed to stall at three — Sacajawea, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin and photographer Evelyn Cameron. But then the stories came of great-grandmothers who homesteaded, widowed mothers who eked out a living in Butte and aunts who served during World War II.

“’In other words, Montanans knew about fascinating women — they just didn’t consider them historical,’ Kohl wrote.”

Martha Kohl (“Montana: Stories of the Land” and “I Do: A Cultural History of Montana Weddings” [see my blog post about that book]) is a historical specialist at the Montana Historical Society.

Many of the essays in the book previously appeared on the MHS webpage Women’s History Matters: 1914 – 2014. The site also contains other references of interest to educators and historians.

According to the San Francisco Book Review, “Each of these stories are short, around three pages or so, and often accompanied by a picture. They tell an interesting story and that is what the contributors bring to life. A story that has been ignored, and if it wasn’t for contributors like these, then these stories would likely be lost forever. Hopefully something like this will bring a closer look to other states and their stories.”

–Malcolm

 

 

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2 responses

  1. Kohl’s line, “In other words, Montanans knew about fascinating women — they just didn’t consider them historical,” is chilling.
    It reminds me that image of History most people have in their minds is one of dead white men fighting wars, making laws, and signing treaties.
    But History is really a story about people and how they were able to overcome difficulties and change the world. Wars and law and treaties are only a small part of this story.
    This sounds like a great book.