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Women’s Responsibility
in the State of Montana

June 4, 1914 — State Federation of Women’s Clubs, Lewistown MT


WOMAN’S RESPONSIBILITY IN THE STATE OF MONTANA is the same as in every other spot on the world. It is the same for the cultured and intellectual woman as it is for the most primitive woman. It is her responsibility to the race. The most compelling force in the most primitive woman is the instinct to preserve and improve the race. The responsibility of the refined intellectual woman is infinitely greater. To express this instinct she must be morally free to follow the dictates of a broadly trained conscience. No one can be morally free to chose until she is economically free, and no class has ever been economically free until it was politically free. Therefore politic[ical] freedom is the first step for this far distant goal. It is an initiative step toward political freedom. Having gained the degree of political freedom which the ballot gives, we shall then have obtained power to win a greater degree of economic freedom, and make another stride toward that moral freedom which is the aim of and the very life of all women.

But today I believe you wish me to talk on feasible plans to be carried out at once. Suffrage for Women in Montana is practically won. The powers that in the past have controlled this state may be able to control the coming election, but nothing can undo the educational work that has been started or prevent its continuance, so for present discussion we can assume that we have Votes for Women in Montana.

That by caring for the children, woman is taking a step toward the fulfilment of her responsibility to the race is admitted by all. We have in Montana about 150 children in the Orphan asylum. These children are cared for by men on a basis of so much per child per year. These children should be cared for as well as the children in the average home, and better. And we women of the state should see that this is done. Not only because we have a human interest in the children but because we should wish their care to be a model for all women to follow.

Here we have a large group of children representing every age, kind and condition. They are nearer normal than any other group of dependents. With the power to force the legislatures to make appropriations, and with women giving careful attention to the problem, we could see that that these children were given intensive study. For instance, their food should be studied and selected so as to ensure normal growth and health in our peculiar climate conditions. Their clothes should be selected for their comfort and adaptability. The housing and sanitary conditions should be such that would protect health. Their play and work choosen [sic] to develope [sic] the child. We could secure experts along these line and  especially along the line of preventing disease and of keeping health and happiness curves about normal. The principles of education, the effect of work and play and idleness on character building could be studied, watching the children twenty-four hours a day.

Information gained in this way could be dissiminated [sic] over the state by extension courses conducted by these experts. This would afford opportunities for consultation and cooperation, so that the experience of each mother might be profitable to all.  In time this institution would become a storehouse of information on child life and care. The mothers of the state would grow to feel that it belonged to them and would apply to it for aid in solving their individual problems. Not only does the mother with the difficult, the backward, the delicate, or the subnormal child need the advice of those accustomed to handling great numbers of the same kind, but the mother of the big healthy normal boy or girl would often like to know what to do next. In time we could standardize motherhood, as all service to society must be standardize.

Mothers would would learn to be willing to recognize their own inefficiency and would demand aid in raising the standard of motherhood. It would develop moralized motherhood. Is it too much to hope that in time no child reared in Montana would be allowed to go through life disfigured because of the lack of a dentist or surgeon. That no child be stunted in body or spirit because of improper nourishment. That no child be incorrigible because of misdirected energy and that no talent be wasted because of lack of appreciation, in short, that we have no ‘Topsies.’

This institution could also be used as a model training school for young women before marriage. Where they might study child culture, not only from books, but from babies as well. It would be an excellent place in which to train home builders, for every essential factor in the home has a direct bearing on the child. Not only in studing [sic] the child in its relation to the home, but in the study of present hoes to determine their adaptability to the needs of a child in the practical work of child placing. A scientific course could be developed that would prepare women for scientific motherhood in such a way that she could demand a respect for her service to society which is impossible today. Besides the college graduate and the thoughtful woman entering marriage, many a young girl who is today a problem to the state would find happiness and training among the babies and come out prepared to do a real work in the world. This would produce trained women who could assist the woman in her home in caring for her children.

I know of no law or social problem that does not in some way affect the home, and therefore a child. The children in an orphan asylum bring in with them every problem affecting social life. The syphilitic child brings in the problem of prostitution. The fatherless child brings in the question of occupational disease and disaster, enforced idleness, desertion, etc. The incompetent mother’s child forces us to consider industrial training, shorter hours, living wage for women. The feeble-minded child, the Moran brings out the costly way in which we deal with this problem. The unmarried mother and her child brings in another question as does the childless home. With every child is found evidence of havoc brought by our present economic pressure and unhappiness caused by anxiety for the future. This institution would become a practical clearing house for the social ills, where the results of our present social system might be studied and efforts made to attack the causes, where women would learn the relation of her work to man’s, where man would learn the relation of his work to woman’s, and where all would learn that an injury to one is the concern of all, that men and women must work together to fulfill their responsibility to the race.



Source: Rankin, Jeanette, “Women’s Responsibility in the State of Montana,” Montana Good Government State Central Committee Records. SC 567. Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives, Helena, Montana.