Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Watie Susan Councilman Duff, 1879-1943
By Kayla Olson and Andrew Moore, student researchers, Montana State University, Bozeman,
Stenographer, Secretary of the Chinook Ladies' Guild; Chairman for equal suffrage for Blaine County; first female Justice of the Peace in Montana
Watie Susan Councilman was born July 3, 1879 in Minnesota to Addie and Thomas Councilman. The family had moved from New York. As recorded in the 1900 census, Watie lived in St. Paul, Minnesota until the age of 19 and was able to read and write. On June 9, 1902, Watie married Joseph Charles Duff, a Civil War veteran, in Butte, Montana. The couple had a significant age difference; she was 23, and he was 55. In 1903, Watie give birth to their only son, Charles Duff.
The Duffs moved to Chinook, Montana and became part of the local community. In 1907, Duff was elected as the secretary of the Chinook Ladies' Guild, and her husband was the secretary of the Commercial Club. John Duff worked as a local land attorney; Watie Duff was a stenographer in addition to running their household. Duff was also becoming increasingly active in the suffrage movement. In 1914, she travelled to the Montana State Fair to "meet other believers in votes for women." She also travelled throughout the state, working "in the field" for women's votes. Additionally, Duff was the chairman for equal suffrage for Blaine County and took part in the "Woman's Suffrage and Children's Day" of the Blaine County Fair in 1914. Duff rode in a "gaily decorated auto" with the mayor of Great Falls, who gave a suffrage address.
Duff continued to engage in political activism after Montana women won the right to vote in 1914. In 1915, she made history by becoming the first female Justice of the Peace in Montana, breaking stereotypes and boundaries. She was appointed Justice of the Peace for the Chinook township by a "petition numerously signed, irrespective of sex." Duff also participated in the New York suffrage parade on October 23th, 1915. The five-mile long parade walked down 5th Avenue; official counts range from 25,000 to over 60,000 participants with an additional 100,000 spectators. According to the New York Times, Watie carried the Blaine County suffragist banner during the parade; the article also notes her impressive position as a female Justice of the Peace. Watie was "also in the east speaking every night for the suffragist cause" in 1915.
John Duff died April 3, 1918 in Chinook, Montana. At some point after John's death, Watie moved to Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California where she would live for the rest of her life. Here she witnessed the passage of the 19th Amendment, and it was this neighborhood that she listed as her address when she went to legally vote. On June 22nd, 1943, Watie Duff, a truly groundbreaking figure, died in her Inglewood home.
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"Locals." The Suffrage Daily News (Helena, MT), Sept. 24, 1914.
"Local News." The Harlem Enterprise (Harlem, MT), Feb. 18, 1915.
"Our Chinook Department." The Havre Herald (Havre, MT), May 10, 1907.
"Personal Advertisement." The Harlem Enterprise (Harlem, MT), January 22, 1908.
"Suffrage Bulletin." Fergus County Democrat (Lewistown, MT), July 23, 1914.
Unknown Artist. Watie Councilman. December 1907. Ancestry.com.
Untitled. The Harlem Enterprise (Harlem, MT), Oct. 14, 1915.
U.S. Census Bureau, "1880 Census," Ancestry.com, accessed February 19, 2018.
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"Watie Susan Duff." California Death Index, 1940-1997. Ancestry.com. Accessed February 23, 2018.
Photo Credit: Unknown Artist, Chinook, Montana, Watie Councilman, December 1907, Ancestry.com.