Biographical Sketch of Waltrene Danforth Beale Willis

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Waltrene Danforth Beale Willis, 1865-1935

By Chloe Loeffelholz, student researcher, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana

Clubwoman, suffragist

Waltrene Willis was born Ada W. Danforth in 1865 in Oregon to Lucius Danforth, a physician and surgeon, and Mary Ann Danforth. She married her first husband, Richard Beale, on December 18, 1883, in Ada County, Idaho. The couple had two children: Claude Beale Willis, born in 1888, and Bessie Beale Willis, born in 1889. There is no record of Richard Beale's death or a divorce between the two, but in 1896 Waltrene married her second husband, John E. Willis, in Kootenai County, Idaho. The couple moved to Glasgow, Montana in 1900 to ranch cattle. The pair resided in Glasgow, Missoula, and Garfield during their time in Montana. By 1930 the couple, who had no surviving children together, had relocated to Blaisdell, Arizona. Waltrene Willis suffered from a heart attack and passed away June 25, 1935 while traveling through Las Vegas, Nevada.

Beginning in 1915, Waltrene Willis, referred to in contemporary documents as Mrs. John Willis, was involved in a variety of club activity in Montana ranging from a Mother's Club to a religious group. Willis was part of the Methodist Ladies' Aid Society in Glasgow and hosted the group in her home at least once. One club meeting sponsored a "twenty-five cent supper" where the Methodist Ladies' Aid Society raised funds for the church and promoted "a spirit of social intercourse." The Glasgow Courier also mentions Willis entertaining the Mother's Club in her home. It appears that Willis's involvement in the club movement began after her own children had grown and around the time of the birth of her grandchildren, Clinton, Waltrene and Bessie Arnot.

Willis's most significant club work was her involvement with the Sunflower Art Club. The Sunflower Art Club focused on social issues of the time through readings such as "Your Children and Their Books" and the papers of one of first female walking guides in Glacier National Park. In 1915, she represented the club at a meeting in Helena for the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs, a statewide organization affiliated with the General Federation of Women's Club. Willis represented the Sunflower Art Club again in 1922 as a delegate to a district meeting of the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs, serving as the Chairman of the Committee of Resolutions. Willis later worked with the state federation to record data on her own Sunflower Art Club and other women's clubs in the area.

Waltrene Willis took an active role in the suffrage movement both statewide and in her county through multiple leadership positions. At the state level, Willis was appointed the recording secretary of the Montana Equal Suffrage State Central Committee during their second statewide meeting in Livingston on June 27, 1913. Within her local community, Willis served as the President of the Political Equality League of Glasgow and Chairman of the Valley County Suffrage Central Committee during the height of the state suffrage movement. The structured nature of Montana's movement is reflected by a comment from one field secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) who stated that "Montana is remarkably well organized." In 1914, Montana adopted woman suffrage. Willis continued to participate in the national suffrage movement. In 1916 she was selected as a delegate to the biennial convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which had endorsed woman suffrage in 1914.

Willis continued her political activity after women achieved voting rights in Montana in 1914 and nationwide in 1920. Willis announced her candidacy for the "Democratic nomination for the office of Representative in the State Legislature" in 1922. Her husband, John E. Willis, served on the state legislature and may have influenced her choice to run for office. It seems that Willis was unsuccessful in being elected to office. Nevertheless, her choice to seek civic duty reflects the expansion of women's sphere during this time.

Waltrene Willis, as a Montana suffragist, reflects many national trends within the women's suffrage movement. She was involved in a range of club activities, took leadership roles in the suffrage movement, and sought political office. Perhaps Carrie Chapman Catt of NAWSA had not met Waltrene Willis when she commented that "the women of Montana must be an inferior race of beings to take so little interest in their own concerns." Waltrene Willis was an active Montana suffragist.


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"Delegates Home," Big Timber Pioneer. 17 June 1915, p. 8, Montana Newspapers. Montana Historical Society, Helena, MT.

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"For State Representative," The Glasgow Courier. 11 Aug. 1922, p.8, Chronicling America,

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U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1870; Census Place: Jackson, Oregon; Roll: M593,

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1880; Census Place: Jacksonville, Jackson, Oregon; Roll: 1081; Family History Film: 1255081; Page: 103B; Enumeration District: 054; Image: 0420.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1900; Census Place: Thompson, Missoula, Montana; Roll: 913; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0072; FHL microfilm: 1240913. Heritage Quest.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1910; Census Place: Glasgow School District, Valley, Montana; Roll: T624_837; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 0233; FHL microfilm: 1374850. Heritage Quest.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Haxby, Garfield, Montana; Roll: T625_971; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 120. Heritage Quest.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Blaisdell, Yuma, Arizona; Roll: 63; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 2; Image: 641.0; FHL microfilm: 2339798.

"Wife of Co-Author of ‘Roosevelt in the Rough' Dies," Montana Standard. 7 July 1935, p.1,,

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