Biographical Sketch of Lillian Lavina Woolston Richardson

Biographical Database of Montana Woman Suffragists

Biography of Lillian Lavina Woolston Richardson, 1860-1924

By Paige Furniss, student researcher, University of Montana, Missoula

Educator, clubwoman, suffragist

Many women during the suffrage movement remain mysterious figures—named for their husbands and nearly impossible to find in the historical record. One such suffragist, "Mrs. A. E. Richardson" was mentioned in the History of Woman Suffrage as a woman from Montana, somehow involved in the movement. Mrs. A. E. Richardson turned out to Mrs. Erving A. Richardson, née Lillian Lavina Woolston.

Lillian L. Woolston was born in Burlington, New Jersey around 1860 to Isaac Morgan Woolston and Mary Jane Woolston (née Perkins.) She moved to the Crow Agency around 1886 where she became the principal teacher and met her future husband, Erving, who was working as an Indian trader in the area. It was likely that Lillian was on a missionary trip to carry her religious teachings to the Native American reservations. Erving and Lillian were married in 1896, and together moved to Forsyth, Montana. The Richardsons had two children: Hazel Pell and Louise Bennett.

In Forsyth, Erving Richardson bought what was known as the "Richardson Mercantile" from Hiram Marcyes in 1903; he later partnered with J.E. Edwards to run the Mercantile. Lillian Richardson spent her time working as the Chairman of the American Citizenship Committee (1914-1916) through the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs, the state affiliate of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which endorsed woman suffrage the same year that Montana adopted an equal suffrage referendum, in 1914. According to the History of Woman Suffrage, Richardson played an active role in the successful statewide campaign, which included careful precinct-level organization, community rallies followed by dances, and open-air speaking in "every little mining camp and settlement that could be reached." Perhaps the Richardson Mercantile was one of the stores where, according to accounts of the Montana campaign, suffragists "spoke from the steps of the store" to silent, all-male audiences. Whatever role Richardson played in the 1914 campaign, she continued her club and political work after its conclusion, serving as Club President of the 6th District and as a Presidential elector in 1920, after which she served a second term as Chairman of Montana Federation's Department of American Citizenship from 1921 to 1923. She also was an active member of her Presbyterian church, which cooperated with other denominations to promote the Sunday School movement in the mid-1920s.

Lillian Richardson passed away in August of 1924 while away from home in Glendale, California, where she was attending the Biennial Meeting of the Federation of Women's Clubs when she was stricken with a sudden illness. After her death, Erving moved to Lodgegrass, Montana, where he passed away in 1930.

Obituaries for Lillian Richardson described her as an active member of her community, noting that in addition to her ten years of teaching in Crow Agency, she taught and lectured wherever she was needed throughout her life. Tributes also noted that she was both a devout Christian and an American patriot. Her funeral was attended by many club women and featured some of her favorite church songs, as well as a reading and songs about national heroes "fighting the fight of faith in the building up of the nation."


"Clubs of Twelve Montana Cities Represented at Hardin--Inspiring Addresses Made by Club Women," Hardin Tribune, November 3, 1922, p. 1. Montana Newspapers.

"Convention of Women's Clubs Here Next Week," Hardin Tribune, October 27, 1922, p. 1. Montana Newspapers.

Deitchler, Karen. Forsyth: 100 Years. (1984) Montana Memory Project.

"Forsyth Pays Her Tribute," Montana Woman, October 1924, p. 20, Montana Memory Project.

Keedick, Lee. Register and Directory of Women's Clubs in America. Vol. 24. Shirley, MA: Winslow, 1922. Google Books.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 6. (National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922). [LINK]

"Many Want To Be Delegates Either in Chicago or San Francisco Meets," Big Timber Pioneer, April 8, 1920, p. 1. Montana Newspapers.

"Mrs E. A. Richardson Dies in California," Hardin Tribune, August 22, 1924, p. 1. Montana Newspapers.

"Mussellshell County Sunday School Convention Convenes," Roundup Record, September 5, 1913, p. 1. Chronicling America.

"Representatives of 5,000 Organized Montana Women to Meet in Anaconda Soon," Dillon Examiner, June 20, 1923, p. 12. Montana Newspapers.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Forsyth, Rosebud, Montana. Heritage Quest.

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