March is Women’s history month and 2014 marks the centennial of women’s suffrage in Montana. By happy coincidence, I just finished reading Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work by Mari Grana. The book follows the life of Dr. Mollie Atwater, a physician who worked in the mining camps of Bannack and Marysville before moving to Helena, where she crusaded for, among other things, women’s suffrage and the TB hospital in Galen. The book paints a vivid picture of Progressive Era Montana and sheds light on just one of the many extraordinary women who helped shape the state. Pioneer Doctor makes an excellent companion as you travel through Southwest Montana.
Bannack—Mollie’s big break came when she took a contract as the doctor in Bannack. Today the town is a state park and open-air museum. Visitors can wander through the many buildings, including the Meade Hotel, and go ice-skating on the Bannack ice rink.
Helena—As the state capital, Helena was the logical place for an activist like Mollie to live. From the capitol building to Last Chance Gulch, Helena offers a rich portrayal of Montana’s past. The Women’s Mural Project is set to unveil two brand new murals depicting women’s role in Montana history in the State Capitol in November.
Marysville—Today a blend of modern residences and abandoned buildings, Marysville once boasted over 5,000 people and some of the richest mines in the area.
If you are looking for more information on women in Montana history, the Women’s History Matters project website is a treasure trove of Montana’s history. Among its wealth of information, WHM features a list of places that figure large in the state’s story. Southwest Montana’s offerings are St. James Hospital in Butte, the Women’s League Chapter House in Deer Lodge, the Morgan-Case homestead in Philipsburg, and the Ferris/Hermsmyer/Fenton Ranch in Madison County. You should also visit Virginia City, and the Water Company office owned by Sarah Bickford