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Suffrage in Montana

In the fall of 1914, exciting news traveled from Montana's capital city of Helena to Esther Strasburger's homestead. "The fight for equal suffrage in Montana is won," declared the November 20, 1914, edition of The Cascade Courier, one of the local papers that would reach the Sun River Valley. Montana women could now vote - six years before the Constitution was amended to extend this right to all American women.

The women of Montana had gained school suffrage in 1889. When Esther first moved to Simms in 1909, she taught at the Hepler School, just a few hundred yards from her homestead. As a teacher, voting in school elections was imperative to her career. But in 1914, as a landowner and head of her household, voting in all Montana elections was an incredible right to gain.

Western states were some of the first members of the Union to grant women the right to vote. Jeannette Rankin, a famous Montana suffragist, described the success of the suffrage movement in the West in her speech to the state legislature in 1911:

Women were given equal suffrage in Wyoming in 1859. They were given the ballot in Colorado in 1893, 24 years later, after that state had been watching with interest its effect in Wyoming. Utah was next in line and from that state women's suffrage spread to Idaho, then Washington. Geographically, Montana is the next state to give suffrage to women, for it [is] more nearly surrounded with states in which women vote than any other in the union.

We are asking for the same principle for which men gladly gave their lives in the revolutionary war. Taxation without representation is tyranny (Helena Independent, February 2, 1911).

Ms. Rankin was also one of the first women to speak in front of Montana's House of Representatives.

Like the Strasburger sisters, Ms. Rankin was a country schoolteacher for a short period before she began actively campaigning for women's suffrage in Washington, California, Ohio, and Montana. Due in part to Ms. Rankin's efforts, Montana enfranchised women.

Perhaps Esther Strasburger was one of the voters who cast their ballot for Ms. Rankin when she ran for Congress in 1916. Ms. Rankin won that race, and became Montana's only Representative and the nation's first Congresswoman.

Just nine years after graduating from high school, Esther Strasburger supported herself outside the home, owned property and had the right to vote in the state she now called home — Montana.

National American Woman Suffrage Association

Cascade Courier

Jeannette Rankin

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