A look back at women in Havre history

 

December 12, 2013



Though regular employment of women away from home was rare in Havre’s history, there were indeed several women legitimately employed in respectable public occupations, even in Havre’s earliest days.

Early police women

There is no doubt that there were influential women in those early days but it was unusual to have that influence in a working world dominated by men.

There was for example, a woman employed as a Havre policewoman in 1909 through 1923. She was not allowed to carry a gun and had limited hours but served the definite purpose of dealing with women temporarily stranded in Havre by train delays, weather and other problems. Sometimes those same reasons prevented the persons meeting the women as planned or, in some cases, the intended meeting was a one-sided plan.

One early sheriff’s laconic statement read “Returned woman to train as intended husband was found with wife and children.” Basically, the policewoman’s work was to meet the apparently stranded woman or women, determine their legitimate need, assist in locating the missing person they were to meet, locate or provide temporary housing or help if needed and get them away from the less than choice elements that bordered the railroad station and adjoining streets of early Havre.


Weather and difficult road conditions often could delay planned meetings as could delays enroute. Sometimes those same factors caused a woman to seek maternity care in Havre’s very early “Lying In hospitals” relatively close to the railroad. There are no records of the early policewoman’s pay, hours of work or length of employment. There is a brief note in the newspaper in 1923 indicating the termination of the “policewoman’s” position with the local police force. Women on the Havre Police force as full-fledged officers were not again employed until 1973. Several have served since that time.

Thora Phalen: War nurse

Another woman in the public workforce in early Havre was Thora Phalen, whose nursing career was an unusual and fascinating one. Born in Norway, Thora immigrated to the United States in 1894, where she sought nurses training in Minneapolis.

Completing that work she became one of the first nurses to serve with the army in the Spanish American War.

Returning to Minneapolis at that war’s end she continued her nursing career in other locations until coming to Havre to visit a relative about 1905. She met and married a year later and took on the operation of the (then Choteau County) “Poor Farm” located just west of Havre.


It could not have been a choice job. Besides attending to and adding to her own family she had to deal with variable numbers of stranded men. These were often sheep herders without a job or housing when the huge herds of sheep held north of the river were sold off in the fall. There were others stranded in the Havre for one reason or another.

The poor farm providing food, housing and often some nursing care filled a definite community need in the area in those early days.

Thora held that position for six years before moving with her husband and family to a ranch in the Bear Paw Mountains, where she continued her services as a nurse to the entire isolated community of farmers and ranchers in that area. Her “pay’ for such services were more often in farm produce rather than cash. Her husband was killed in an automobile crash in 1932, but Thora remained with the ranch and her nursing services to the area until WWII when she moved to Havre and continued with her nursing career at the Kennedy Deaconess hospital.

Thora received many honors for her services in the Spanish-American War as well as those to so many people in Havre and surrounding areas. Much more about Thora can be found in Gary Wilson’s new book “Adventure Trails of Montana’s Last Frontier.”


Eglantine Bessette Roper: Hi-Line attorney

Eglantine Bessette Roper’s father had been involved in the freighting and transportation business associated with the building of Fort Assinniboine. In 1897 he settled his family on a ranch in the Havre area where Eglantine was born in 1888. Unusual as it was at the time, she received an extensive education both in Montana and California and gained experience with the law working as a court reporter and public stenographer in what was then Choteau County.

Married to Clyde Roper in 1910, she bore a son but continued to seek additional legal education which resulted in her being admitted to the Bar in 1919.

Shortly after, she established her own practice as a land attorney in Havre and continued to work with her husband in the operation of the Northern Auto Company until 1925, when they sold that business and opened a general insurance, real estate and loan office here.

Eglantine acted as an agent for the U.S. Building and Loan of Butte and at one time dealt in oil leases in the Shelby area. She left Havre in the Depression years but returned to Havre in 1962, finding few friends or business associations. Apparently successful in business but not socially, she died in December 1974.

First librarians

The first officially employed person as the city librarian is a matter of discussion. Several women were employed as “librarians” at one time or another. At the libraries founding in 1908 two ladies served to operate the infant library undoubtedly without pay. Located in the basement of the then Security State bank building at 3rd Avenue and 1st Street, the” library” then consisted of about 200 volumes donated by women of the community. A newspaper article in that year bragged about Havre’s “large, free, public library.”

When that space proved inadequate, the library was moved to the basement of the city hall then located at 1st Street and 4th Avenue.

In 1911 a tax was levied for library support and a Mrs. R. E. Hammond hired as the first paid librarian. She was succeeded in 1914 by Mary Homan and Elizabeth Martin, who apparently served until 1922.

It is not clear if both ladies were paid employees or for the actual dates of their service. In 1914 Havre acquired its Carnegie Library located on 4th Street. That same year, Emlyn Benson was hired as librarian. She may have been the first to have all the required credentials to operate a library carrying the Carnegie name. She had the “joy” of moving whatever collection of book existed by that time, into the new two-story building. She is noted as the first officially recognized librarian serving the city of Havre and served until 1944. Additional information on that public employee seems unavailable.

Florence Kerr Facey: Journalist, state legislator

Women as “journalists” or newspaper reporters were rare in the early 1900s. Florence Kerr Facey was one of them serving not only Havre at one time but also several Hi-Line communities. Born in Ohio 1891, her family moved to Glasgow where she grew up.

She attended school there and also Oberlin College in Ohio where she studied law. She worked at various times in her father’s law office and in other County offices. Married in 1910 to T.M. Facey of Malta she worked in connection with her husband’s mercantile and theater businesses as well as some farming adventures. Despite having three small children she ran and was elected to serve in the 1922 Montana Legislature. She was one of four women to serve in that session. She was later employed as a reporter for the Phillips County News and for 12 years, from 1930 to 1942, by the Havre Daily News followed by the Great Falls Tribune for seven years.

In 1951 she was employed as publicity director for the state Economic Stabilization office in Helena. She died later that year at her daughter’s home in Cut Bank.

Unfortunately, not all of her articles written for the Havre Daily News were identified, but her service in contributing to and helping to compile a 38-page publication called the “Havre Progress Edition” in March 1938 is one of special note. That bulky edition provided then, as well as now, a basic history of Havre, its schools, churches and businesses. It has provided a valuable reference for history buffs and/or researchers. The editor of the Miles City Star, impressed with that edition, promptly wrote a lengthy guest editorial commending the work and material in it.


One of her many articles in that edition detailed the history of Havre’s newspapers. A grandson, Tom Facey of Missoula, followed in his grandmother’s footsteps serving in the Montana House of Representatives in the 1999 and 2001 and in the Senate 2011 and 2013.

(Toni Hagener is a former Hill County commissioner, director of the H. Earl Clack Museum and a Montana state representative and is an expert in Havre and Hi-Line history.)

 

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