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July 30, 2022
Photo and Story By Paul Vang

Life on Montana’s frontier wasn’t easy. Whether on farms and ranches or in Montana’s few urban areas, the work was hard and dangerous for the men who worked on the ranches or mines.

It was hard for the women, as well, as many women worked hard to help prove up homesteads, grow gardens, tend a flock of chickens, raise children and, for many, cope with loneliness and isolation.

Women were relatively rare during Montana’s frontier years. In 1870, there were 8 men in Montana for each woman. Even by 1910, only 39 percent of Montana residents were women. Nevertheless, women often reached out to each other; sometimes simply for company, other times to help each other, or to trade books or newspapers.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, there was a movement to establish women’s clubs, and women joined together to form clubs to foster social activity, as well as a chance to educate themselves and others.

According to an unpublished master’s thesis by Stephanie Ambrose Tubbs, filed at the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana, the first women’s club in Montana was the Deer Lodge Women’s Club, founded in 1889. Another club, the As You Like It Club, in Missoula, was founded in 1891. In addition to literature studies, they promoted the first 4th of July celebrations in Missoula, as well as promoting tree planting on the University campus.

Other early women’s clubs were established in Helena, Augusta, Conrad, Baker, Stevensville, and Laurel.

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