To preface this message from Great Falls Rising, let’s remember that the role of women in US government was relatively new. In fact, the very first woman to serve in the US Congress was Montana’s own Jeannette Rankin. She was elected to the US House of Representatives even before women nationally were given the right to vote in 1920. She had the distinction of voting against US entry into both World Wars.
Out of the 100 delegates serving Montana at the 1972 Constitutional Convention 19 were women. At the same time there were only 2 women in the MT state legislature.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Great Falls Rising is highlighting the women who served in this distinguished body of delegates, only three of whom are still alive. Some women still felt intimidated by men, but most were eager to speak their minds, whether in committees or on the floor of the Convention.
At the outset of the Convention, it was determined that the delegates would be seated alphabetically, a good idea to keep things from getting too political. (How about instituting that today?)
The 19 women delegates came from every walk of life representing teachers, farm and urban wives, journalists, businesswomen; there was a judge and a former mayor.
Our four local Great Falls delegates were:
First and foremost for us in Great Falls is Arlyne Reichert who was active for many years in the League of Women Voters, inspiring her to run as a delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention. She was given a leave of absence from the McLaughlin Research Institute where she worked for 21 years, retiring as Assistant Director. Since 1994 she has devoted time to restoring the Historic ARCH Bridge in Great Falls. During the Convention she served on the Legislative Committee. Arlyne has been a huge help in our ongoing notifications to all of you about the 50th anniversary.
Virginia Blend had spent much time studying local government as a LWV member, making her invaluable in her leadership role on the Local Government Committee. She was a prominent leader in Great Falls having started Blend’s Copy Shop with her husband.
Member of the Executive Committee and chair of Public Information, Margaret Warden was a community leader for years. She and Alma Jacobs led the movement to build a new library in GF in 1967. She received national recognition for her effort on behalf of libraries.
Elected the first woman mayor of Great Falls, Marian Erdmann was well suited to serve on the Local Government Committee. Her experience in local government served the committee well.
Betty Babcock, wife of Governor Tim Babcock, was the gracious hostess for many of the Constitutional Convention gatherings. She was active with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, headed Montana’s Bicentennial program and attended the famed International Women’s Year deliberations in Houston in 1977, chairing the Montana Delegation. Betty also led the successful Capitol Restoration organization. During the Convention Betty served on the Executive and Public Information Committees.
Louise Cross was a heroine for her tough stand in protecting Montana’s beauty. As chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, she received little cooperation from her committee members. Despite this fact, the “Clean and Healthful Environment” was included not only in the Environmental article but also in the Declaration of Rights.
Former state president of the League of Women Voters, the group that so assiduously campaigned for the convention, Dorothy Eck had a great deal of influence throughout the Convention. She is probably best known for spearheading the provision in the Education Article which “recognizes the distinct & unique cultural heritage of the American Indians.”
The oldest delegate and perhaps the wisest, Lucile Spear had a 40 year career at the UM library and was very involved in politics. Lucile wrote a booklet on “writing a constitution” before the Convention even began and was very effective on the Local Government Committee as well as the “Style, Drafting & Transition” Committee.
Youngest delegate at age 24 was Mae Nan Robinson (Ellingson) who helped Bob Campbell write the Preamble to our Constitution. Mae Nan had personal tragedies and responsibilities at a young age and sought to overcome them by studying every issue and speaking her mind. Following the Convention Mae Nan went on to Law School.
Grace Bates was an asset to the convention from beginning to end. She served oh the Legislative Committee and was completely dedicated to the job. In addition to other historic books, Grace put together the book about all 100 delegates.
Besides being secretary of the Convention, Jean Bowman also served on the Judiciary Committee. She was often frustrated by the refusal of some of the delegates on that committee to improve the system. Following the Convention, Jean became a lawyer.
Daphne Bugbee (Jones) was educated as an architect at Harvard and was an active contributor to the work of the Convention. Having been involved in League of Women Voters, she was a natural on the Legislative Committee.
Veronica O’Sullivan from Butte was one of the most popular delegates. She was active on the Constitution’s Bill of Rights Committee and participated in party politics for many years. President Kennedy appointed her to the National Safety Council.
Before becoming a delegate Katie Payne had been a judge, a member of the Missoula City Council and served the Convention on the Local Government Committee. Her chief interests were public health and zoning. She was instrumental in the inclusion of the provision for self-governing powers for local governments.
Catherine Pemberton was a free spirit from Broadus. As an Independent News writer and a member of the National Federation of Press Women, she lent her wisdom and expertise to the Public Information Committee and Judiciary Committee.
Born in Havre where her life revolved around her large family, Edith Van Buskirk served on the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. She used her organizational and conversational skills displayed in college when she was on the Northern Montana College team that won the Montana State Debate Championship.
Lynn Sparks was another of the youngest delegates. She was born in Butte, employed by the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. before being transferred to the American Embassy in Santo Domingo. At the Constitutional Convention she served on the Local Government & Public Information Committees. After the Convention she worked as head of Public Relations for “Our Lady of the Rockies” in Butte.
Along with being a teacher and author, Rachell Mansfield, relative of Mike Mansfield, also served in the WAVES. She represented four Northcentral counties at the convention and was an active member of the Bill of Rights committee.
Marjorie Cain taught school in Montana and became very active in Libby politics where she was served on the City Council, BPW and the Red Cross Board. All this experience made her a valuable member of the Education and Public Lands Committee.
Categories: Womens History