Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Helen Fitzgerald Sanders, 1881-1955

By Kyrstin Hofstetter, student researcher, University of Montana

Author, suffragist, clubwoman

Helen Fitzgerald Sanders was born to Helen Louise Fitzgerald and William Francis Fitzgerald in 1881 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1900, she married Louis Peck Sanders. By 1910, the couple lived in Butte, Montana with their three children: Louis P. Sanders, Helen T. Sanders, and Wilbur F. Sanders.

Sanders established a prominent career as an author with a focus on Montana and Native American history. She wrote dozens of books and short stories, including Trails Through the Western Woods, The White Quiver (1913), History of Montana (1913), Little Mother America (1919), The Opening of the Flathead Reservation (1909), and The Dream Maker (1918). Many of her books featured detailed descriptions of Montana scenery, including Lake McDonald, located within the future boundaries of Glacier National Park. Her book Trails Through the Western Woods won praise from environmentalist John Muir. In her reply to him, Sanders confessed that she was "strangely devoted to the lake and its surrounding mountains" and felt compelled to visit "year after year."

When at home in Butte, Sanders also was very active in her local community and participated in many clubs and organizations. She was a member of the Hiland Presbyterian Congregation of Ross Township in addition to attending meetings for the Homer Club, an organization established in 1891 in Butte, Montana for the intellectual advancement of women. The club met weekly, and later bi-weekly, to view presentations on topics such as literature, history, music, social issues, and others. Sanders was also associated with the Butte Woman's Club. Although it started as a social and literary group, it slowly transitioned to focus on a variety of social reforms such as education, juvenile justice, child labor, and women's suffrage.

Sanders also held leadership positions in clubs and organizations that focused on women's suffrage. During the 1913-1914 push for statewide suffrage, she was the president of the Political Equality League of the Copper City (Butte), Vice-Chairman of the Equal Suffrage Association of Montana, and second assistant chairman of the Woman's Suffrage State Central Committee. As a leader for the women's suffrage movement, she worked closely with Jeanette Rankin to secure women's right to vote.

During the Montana State Fair of 1914, Sanders represented Sacajawea as "the first American Suffragist" in the featured suffrage pageant. The Suffrage State Central Committee published its own newspaper, the Suffrage Daily News, during the fair to promote the cause. Sanders's poetry was included in the September 25,1914 issue. (The same issue noted that she had won a blue ribbon for a white loaf cake and a chocolate layer lake.)

Sanders divorced in the 1910s and spent much of her later life in New York City and in Washington, D.C.

Publications by Helen Fitzgerald Sanders

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, Trails Through Western Woods (New York: The Alice Harriman Company; 1910)

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, A History of Montana (Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1913)

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, Little Mother America (Boston: Cornhill Co., 1919).

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, The Dream Maker (Boston: The Cornhill Company, ©1918).

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, The Opening of the Flathead Reservation (San Francisco: Overland Pub. Co., 1909).

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald, The White Quiver (New York: Duffield, 1913).


"Advocates of Votes For Women Perfect Organization in Helena," The Daily Missoulian [Missoula, MT], January 07 1913, p. 4, Chronicling America,

Helen Fitzgerald Sanders Collection, 1886-1955, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Helena, Montana, Archivegrid,

Homer Club of Butte Records, 1895-1984, Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives, Helena, Montana, Archives West,

Leonard, John William, Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada 1914-1915 (New York: The American Commonwealth Company, 1914). [LINK]

Letter from Helen Fitzgerald Sanders to John Muir, February 7, 1911, Online Archive of California,

"Local and Personal," The Dillon Tribune [Dillon, MT], October 09 1914, p. 1, Montana Newspapers,

"Locals," The Suffrage Daily News [Helena, MT], September 26 1914, p. 4, Chronicling America,

Louthan, Mary Louise, Hiland Presbyterian Congregation of Ross Township Celebrating Its 150th Anniversary, 1800-1950 (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University, 1950).

"Mrs. Helen F. Sanders," The Suffrage Daily News [Helena, MT], September 26, 1914, p. 2, Chronicling America,

"Montana Suffrage Parade Great Success," The Suffrage Daily News [Helena, MT], September 26 1914, p. 1, Chronicling America,

O'Neill, Mary E., "Equal Suffrage Department," Big Timber Pioneer [Big Timber, MT], November 12 1914, p. 7, Montana Newspapers,

"Returns to Butte," The Dillon Examinor [Dillon, MT], June 25 1930, p. 4, Montana Newspapers,

"Suffrage Letter," Flathead Courier [Polson, MT], October 15 1914, p. 1, Montana Newspapers,

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1910; Census Place: Butte Ward 2, Silver Bow, Montana; Roll: T624_836; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0094; FHL microfilm: 1374849, HeritageQuest or

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