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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: Harriette Eliza Cushman spread the science of poultry

A black and white photograph of Harriette Cushman, wearing horseback riding clothes and standing in front of a log building. Photograph is part of the Harriette Cushman series.
MSU Historical Photos.
Harriette Cushman, the first state female poultry specialist in Montana and the United States.

Harriette Eliza Cushman, born in 1890, grew up in New York State. At Cornell, she studied chemistry and bacteriology, then, in 1918, earned a poultry science degree from Rutgers University.

So, Harriette knew everything chicken—and turkey: the best methods of breeding, culling, grading birds and eggs, housing, feeding, and health.

In 1922, the Montana extension service hired her as America’s first female state poultry specialist. For 32 years, Harriette also employed education, economics, and marketing to significantly improve Montana’s poultry industry.

Working six and a half days a week and clocking up to 10,000 miles a year on trains around the state, Harriette taught Montanans best practices for growing and selling birds and eggs.

Early on, she helped create a wholesale cooperative, garnering Montanans the best prices in the nation for turkeys and eggs. Harriette’s work mattered especially during hard times and especially for women.

Little by little, cash from flocks allowed farmwives to make improvements for themselves and their families. It was Harriette who introduced poultry into 4-H. And she was especially glad to work on Montana’s Indian reservations. In appreciation, the Blackfeet adopted her as a tribal member.

When she grew old, Harriette invited friends and colleagues in advance to gather after her death AND to contribute in her honor to Indian education at Montana State. Death came in 1978, and the party was a good one. Over 100 people gathered to pay tribute to Harriette Cushman.

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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