A Tale: Montana Women Held Elective Office Before They Could Vote

March is Women’s History Month so I decided to post something in observance of that here. Of course, this blog contains dozens of stories by and about women who visited Yellowstone Park long ago, but I wanted to post something visitors hadn’t seen before. Checking my files, I came across my article about Adda Hamilton, who was elected School Superintendent of Gallatin County, Montana, in 1884. I published it in The Pioneer Museum Quarterly in Spring 2007.

I came across Adda’s story General George W. Wingate’s book about his trip to Yellowstone Park in 1885. Like General Wingate, I was intrigued to find out that women were winning elections in Montana before they could vote, so I researched Adda’s story and submitted it for publication. Here it is.


When General George W. Wingate visited Bozeman in 1885, he was amazed that a woman held political office.[1] Wingate was talking about Adda Hamilton who was elected Gallatin County School Superintendent in 1884.

Wingate said he was glad that she won her election by a large majority. “For this” Wingate said, “she seems to have been greatly indebted to her opponent.” As Wingate told the story:

“Miss Hamilton’s opponent had occupied the position for which she was a candidate for several years, and was enraged at the thought that a woman should have the audacity to oppose his re-election. In a speech made shortly before the election to a crowded meeting, composed largely of his own adherents, . . . he forgot himself so much as to sneer at Miss Hamilton as a ‘school marm who had come to the territory a few years ago without a dollar in her pocket.’”

“He was continuing in this strain when an Irishman in the audience stood up and interrupted him with a stentorian shout — ‘Boys lets give three cheers for Miss Hamilton;’ whereupon every man in the audience stood up in his place, waved his hat and cheered for Miss Hamilton at the top of his lungs.”

Most likely the man who abused Miss Hamilton was the Republican William Wallace Wylie. In 1878, Wylie was recruited to be Bozeman’s first superintendent of schools, a position he held for three years. Then he was principal of the Bozeman Academy for four years. After he lost his election to Miss Hamilton, he was named Superintendent of Schools for Montana Territory.

Wylie was described in Progressive Men of Montana as “being inflexibly opposed to the liquor traffic and standing true to his convictions in 1888 transferred his allegiance to the Prohibition Party.” He was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church. Wylie was an author and lecturer about Yellowstone National Park and founded a large company that provide guided carriage tours and lodging in permanent tent camps.[2]

When Adda Hamilton announced that she was running for school superintendent as an independent, The Bozeman Avant Courier described her as “a young lady of pleasant address, excellent educational attainments and experience as a teacher and is doubtless qualified for the position to which she aspires.”[3]

The Avant Courier said her name had been submitted for nomination at the Democratic Party Convention, which chose another candidate. “Some persons may question the propriety or wisdom of her present course in running as an independent,” the article continued, “but this is a matter that must be left to the young lady’s own judgment, and she doubtless is actuated by the best of reasons and or purest motives.” In Miss Hamilton’s formal announcement, she said she decided to seek office “at the earnest solicitation of many citizens.”

Hamilton wasn’t the only woman to run in Montana in 1884. The Avant Courier republished an article from the Dillon Tribune that reported “The girl candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction in many of the counties of Montana are going to win.”[4]

In Meagher County, the article said, “two girls are pitted against each other, and the fight for the position is quite lively. Miss Darcy is the candidate for the unwashed Democrats and Miss Nichols musters with the Republican boys.” Miss Clark of Lewis and Clark County was described as “a talented young woman” and “an accomplished politician. The Tribune expected Miss Clark to win.

The Tribune said that as an independent, Miss Hamilton “enters the field against the odds of regular party nominees.” Describing her as a candidate “with sand,” the paper added, “Hamilton should be elected.” Among her virtues, the paper said, “she says she isn’t afraid of road agents,” which “would afford the pleasure to hop around from one county school house to another. The men of Gallatin Country would be confounded mean if they don’t run Hamilton in.”

On Election Day, Miss Hamilton won the election with 1485 men’s votes. The Republican candidate got 1051 and the Democrat, 487.[5] That, as General Wingate said, “shows what comes of abusing a woman in Montana.” Montana didn’t grant the vote to women for another twenty-five years.


—   This article first appeared in The Pioneer Museum Quarterly, Summer 2007, page 4.

—   To find stories about women’s adventures in Yellowstone Park, click on “Women’s Stories” under the “Categories” button to the left.


  1. George W. Wingate, Through Yellowstone Park on Horseback, Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1999.
  2. Progressive Men of the State of Montana. A.W. Bowen, Chicago, 1901.
  3. Avant Courier, Bozeman, MT., October 9 1884.
  4. Avant Courier, Bozeman, MT., October 30, 1884.
  5. Avant Courier, Bozeman, MT., December 6, 1884.

2 thoughts on “A Tale: Montana Women Held Elective Office Before They Could Vote

  1. That “girl” representing the unwashed Dems finished third.
    Good story and especially timely today on the centennial of the 1913 women’s suffrage parade in Washington, the first of its kind in the capital.

    • Newspapers were remarkably partisan during Montana’s territorial era. I assume that’s the reason for the “unwashed Democrats” reference, although I’m not familiar with the paper being quoted. I truly enjoy putting together such stories. Also, There wasn’t much sensitivity to gender issues back then.

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