Margaret S. Hathaway (1867-1955)

Margaret "Maggie" Smith Hathaway was born in Ottawa, Ohio on March 19, 1867 to Isaac N. Smith and Martha Adams Earick Smith. Her father was a Methodist minister and her mother had taught school. Following in her mother's footsteps, she became a teacher in 1882, when she was just 15.


The Smith family moved to Stevensville, Ravalli County, in Montana's Bitterroot Valley in 1894, when she was 27.  Her father frequently traveled to Helena to serve as the legislative chaplain, something that brought Maggie Smith's attention to the political world.  Women had no role in that, however, and she taught in the Helena School District until 1893, when she was elected superintendent of schools for Lewis and Clark County. She served several terms in this position, leaving it in 1911.


Throughout her time as an educator and administrator, she was a strong proponent for women's rights. In 1905, Smith wrote a report to the County School Board on the injustice of male teachers being paid more than female teachers, something that was common throughout the nation – but rarely protested.   Because she, like the school board members, was elected, not appointed, she felt free to speak to the issue.  Gender-based discrimination in teacher pay, however, would remain routine everywhere in the nation for decades into the future.


In 1911, at age 44, Margaret Smith married Professor Benjamin Tappan Hathaway, the Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction, but he died suddenly six months later. Presumably she inherited enough money that she could manage without a paying job for a while and instead of returning to education, she concentrated on reform efforts, especially the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  Many WCTU women also supported women's enfranchisement so that they could vote for local bans on alcohol, and by 1915, Margaret Hathaway was a lobbyist for the Legislative Council of Montana Women.


Montana women won full voting rights in 1914, and like Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin and State Representative Emma Ingalls, Hathaway won the very first election in which she was eligible to run.  A Democrat, she was re-elected in 1918 and 1920, serving a total of three terms. She chaired the Committee on Public Morals, Charities, and Reform and rose to become the Minority Floor leader – a national first for women.


The federal 18th Amendment, which banned alcohol sales throughout the nation, passed Congress during her tenure, and she led its ratification in Montana. A delegate to the 1920 Democratic National Convention, she left the legislature to run unsuccessfully for Congress in 1922.  Meanwhile she had codified state laws on children, and after her loss, the governor appointed Hathaway as Secretary of the Montana Bureau of Child Protection.  She served from 1925 to 1937.


  Margaret Smith Hathaway remained active in social reform and politics her entire life. She headed the Montana State Temperance Commission when she was 75 – during World War II and a decade after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, "the noble experiment" to ban alcohol.  She served in this position until her death at 88.

Image credit: Montana History Society.