Biographical Sketch of Katharyn Isabella Mackenzie Perham

Biographical Database of Montana Woman Suffragists

Biography of Katharyn Isabella Mackenzie Perham, 1876-1952

By Delanie Ferguson, student researcher, University of Montana, Missoula

Clubwoman, suffragist

Katharyn Isabella Mackenzie was born in Minnesota in 1876 to John Gillards McKenzie and Margaret MacKenzie. John had been born in 1819, in Essich, Scotland, and Margaret had been born in 1839, in New Brunswick, Canada. Katharyn married Wallace Thayer Perham in Utah in 1906 at the age of 27. The Perhams moved to Glendive, Montana, where they remained for over twenty years. After her husband's death, Katharyn Perham moved to Butte and lived there until her death on June 23, 1952.

Katharyn Perham actively participated in state and national women's clubs. Women's clubs were crucial to the suffrage movement. The General Federation of Women's Clubs, with which the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs was affiliated, was the largest women's organization in the nation, with over a million members by 1914. The organization's endorsement of woman suffrage helped change the perception of the vote for women from a once-radical idea to a mainstream cause.

Perham served as First District President of the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs in 1914. Her leadership position in the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs coincided with her participation in the state suffrage movement. In 1913, when the Montana Equal Suffrage Central Committee officially organized, Perham was elected as finance chair. In this role, Perham oversaw the raising and allocating of funds for a massive statewide campaign, including door-to-door canvassing, that resulted in the adoption of woman suffrage in Montana in 1914. Following the successful state suffrage campaign, Perham continued her leadership in the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs.

From 1917 to 1919, she served as War Time President of the organization. Using her platform, Perham encouraged a sense of militarism and patriotism. There was evidence in her speeches that she was a pacifist, but she also used militaristic language. In 1917, when the U.S. officially entered into the war, suffragists and club members had to choose between suffrage or the war effort. In her public statements, Perham was careful to encourage personal responsibility.

Although Perham appeared to support the war, the GFWC would eventually publicly support the World Court, a pacifist organization. The World Court was responsible for settling legal disputes between member states and gave advisory opinions that encouraged a peaceful way to settle differences to avoid war. In 1923, the GFWC aided the World Court in sending telegrams to chairmen of all political parties urging them to endorse America's adherence to the World Court and further urging all parties to cooperate with other nations for world peace.

In 1922, Perham was elected second vice-president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs. In that same year, Perham was nominated for President of the General Federation, now with over three million members. Even with past president S. M. Souders's endorsement, Perham lost the election by 642 votes to Mrs. John D. Sherman of Colorado.

In September 1932, the General Federation appointed Perham honorary vice-president at the Twenty-First Biennial Convention in Seattle, Washington, where Perham summarized the highlights of the meeting: “When one sits through nine days of discussing, addresses, reports and relives the untiring zeal of the women who are making life and living conditions betters, it would be selfish, miserly soul, who did not thrill with a feeling of proud satisfaction that she held membership in such an organization.”

Perham delivered many speeches and published many articles published in her career. One of her most well-known speeches, published in the Montana Woman, the official publication of the Montana Federation of Women's Clubs, was “Your Duty and Mine” in 1924 at a convention in Kalispell. This speech, quoted in her obituary after her death, spoke of the duty of all people, including women, to serve society. Perham asserted: “Every duty is a hardship or a pleasure according to the motive in which promotes us to assume it. Some duties are born with us, some are acquired and some are thrust upon us, and the individual must choose for himself the spirit with which he meets them.”

Katharyn Perham created a national name for herself with mentions of her club involvement appearing in newspapers around the nation, from the Lincoln Star to the Boston Globe. Her last appearance would be at the annual GFWC convention in Minneapolis the month before her death the summer of 1952 at age 76. Following her death, her obituary in the Montana Woman referred to her as “a club women of rare graces, fine perception, and wise counsel,” who had “given much to her family, her community and her state.” Throughout her life, Katharyn Perham was “a living example of all that is desirable in today's clubwoman.”


“The 1924 Kalispell Convention of Montana Federation of Women's Clubs,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 1, no. 1, October 1924, p.3, Montana Memory Project,

#x200e“Can Western Women Win?” Coronado Eagle 13, no. 5, June 7, 1924, p.6, California Digital Newspaper Collection,

Clarke, I. C., American Women and The World War (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1922).

“Federation Meeting Proves Great Success,” Dillon Examiner (Dillon, Montana), October 31, 1917, p.4, Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana,

“Former Butte Woman Called by Death,” Butte Montana Standard, June 27, 1952, morning ed., p.13,

“Hay Corral Anniversary Fittingly Observ'd,” Hardin Tribune (Hardin, Montana), August 3, 1923, p.8, Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana,

“Human Relation in the Remarkable Progress Of a Commonwealth; Mrs. Wallace T. Perham's Striking Address at The Rotana Club Dinner,” Butte Montana Standard, October 6, 1929, p. 12,

Ida Husted Harper, ed., “Montana,” chapter XXV in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York, NY: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), pp. 360-367. [LINK]

“Montana Has Even Chance to Win,” Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), May 21, 1924, p.1,

“Mrs. Wallace Thayer Perham,” obituary, Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 29, no. 1, September 1952, p.3, Montana Memory Project,

Putz, Paul, Montana Main Streets: A Guide to Historic Glendive, vol. 2 (Montana: Advance Litho Printing), pp. 31, 52, 54, 48, GoogleBooks.

“Report on Women's State Meeting,” Hardin Tribune, June 29, 1923, p.1, Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana,

“State Convention at Livingston, Oct. 12-15,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 3, no. 11, August 1926, p.2, Montana Memory Project,

“Suggestions by Former State President,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 2, no. 7, April 1926, p.7, Montana Memory Project,

“The Twenty-first Biennial, G.F.W.C., at Seattle,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 8, no. 10, September 1932, pp. 4-5, Montana Memory Project,

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Glendive Ward 1, Dawson, Montana; Roll: T625_968; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 74, HeritageQuest.

U.S. Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Glendive, Dawson, Montana; Roll: 1254; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0002; FHL microfilm: 2340989, HeritageQuest.

“Western States Conference Meets,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 29, no. 1, September 1952, p.3, Montana Memory Project,

“Women's Clubs Chief to Work for Beauty,” New York Times, June 13, 1924, p.19, ProQuest.

“Your Duty and Mine,” Montana Woman (Butte, Montana) 1, no. 2, November 1924, p.6, Montana Memory Project,

back to top