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From law breakers to law makers, suffragists to unionists, bronc riders to ball players, Bold Women of Montana celebrates Women’s History Month in our state! Learn more about 23 bold women of Montana. Listen every weekday in March at 8:42 a.m. and 2:04 p.m., and find the latest episodes here.

Bold Women: 'The whirlwind' Maggie Smith Hathaway, champion for women's suffrage

Maggie Smith Hathaway in 1914
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Maggie Smith Hathaway in 1914

In 1914, suffragists finally convinced Montana men to vote for women’s suffrage. Of all Montana counties, Ravalli — the Bitterroot — had the most pro-suffrage votes. Historians attribute that to Maggie Smith Hathaway.

Skillfully and passionately, her whole life, Hathaway dedicated herself to improving women’s rights, child welfare and education in Montana.

With her parents, Maggie moved to Stevensville from Ohio in the 1890s, when she was in her 20s. Maggie had been teaching school since age 15; her mom was a teacher too, and a suffragist. In 1911, Maggie married, but her husband died 6 months later. To pull Maggie from grief, her mother urged her to start working for Montana families.

After the suffrage vote, Maggie ran for office as a Democrat in 1916, becoming one of Montana’s first two female legislators. Her very first week, she introduced bills and speechified — to thunderous applause — later becoming one of the first women in the country to be elected a minority floor leader.

Among many other reforms, she drafted a pension bill for poor single moms and also the nation's first equal-pay-for-equal-work law. Later Maggie became the first woman to head a state agency, the Bureau of Child Protection.

In the Legislature her nicknames were “The Whirlwind” and “Mrs. Has-Her-Way.” One colleague described the diminutive redhead especially well. He said, “[Maggie Smith Hathaway] is the biggest man in the House.”

Celebrating Women's History Month, Bold Women of Montana is brought to you by Mountain Press, publisher of Bold Women in Montana History, and is produced by Beth Judy, Jake Birch and Michael Marsolek. Theme Music by Naomi Moon Siegel.

Beth Judy is the author of Bold Women in Montana History and a limited audio series based on the book. She previously hosted and produced The Plant Detective, a locally produced and nationally syndicated program.
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