Biographical Dictionary of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Belle Fligelman Winestine, 1891-1985
By Rebecca Warwick, student-researcher, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
President, University of Wisconsin Women's Student Government Association; Campaign manager for Jeannette Rankin; Member, National American Woman's Suffrage Association, Republican Women's National Campaign Committee, Montana League of Women Voters, State Federation of Women Voters, State Federation of Women's Clubs, and Montana Business and Professional Women's Clubs; Journalist and Author
Born into a family of Romanian Jewish immigrants on March 25, 1891, Belle Fligelman was raised in Helena, Montana, by her father, Herman, and her stepmother Ghetty, a German immigrant. Fligelman's mother, Minnie Weinzweig Fligelman, died from infection shortly after her birth. Fligelman barely escaped death herself; although she weighed eight pounds at birth, within a few months, due to difficulty holding down nourishment, she weighed only five pounds. Determined she would live, her aunt nursed her back to health.
In an interview in 1977, Belle Fligelman speculates that her mother had a basic level of education since friends gave her four volumes of William Shakespeare as a wedding present. Minnie Fligelman also entertained quilting as a hobby; Belle Fligelman and her older sister, Frieda, donated one such quilt to the Montana Historical Society in 1949.
Fligelman's father, Herman, and his family fled from Romania to escape anti-Jewish persecution, saving up money to purchase passports from strangers in order to cross the border. Herman's father, Joseph, had no last name while he was in Israel—he was simply referred to as “Joseph with the beard.” When he and his wife finally obtained their passports, Joseph's passport had the last name of “Fligelman,” the name the family would use in later years.
Herman Fligelman ran away to America with a friend when he was approximately 15 years old. Herman's family followed soon after, arriving in 1882. Moving from New York to Minneapolis to Billings, Herman settled down in Helena in 1889, the same year he and Minnie married. Herman set up the New York Dry Goods Company there and so named it because, as Fligelman later recalled, her father believed “New York was the ideal of fashion.”
Belle Fligelman and her sister experienced a rich Jewish upbringing emphasizing the belief that “God was the idea of goodness”; therefore, Belle and Frieda Fligelman were expected to be “good” people. Belle Fligelman would take this to heart through a long career of feminist, social, and political activism, beginning at the University of Wisconsin.
From approximately 1908 to 1913, Belle Fligelman attended the University of Wisconsin. During her time there, Fligelman served as president of the Women's Student Government Association and editor for the student newspaper. She also lobbied the Wisconsin legislature for women's suffrage. She later recalled: “The first time I got involved in the suffrage movement was somewhat accidental. It was in 1913, when I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, then one of the intellectual centers of the reform spirit known as Progressivism.” Fligelman recalled that she was contacted by the state headquarters for women's suffrage in Wisconsin and told that she would be giving a ten-minute speech that night to the Wisconsin state legislature on why women should have the vote. Fligelman recounts thinking: “I knew that it was right for women to vote, but I didn't know that you had to have a reason for being right...I was terrified.” Fligelman received a standing ovation that night.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy in 1913, Fligelman traveled to New York and Milwaukee for “brief newspaper stints” before returning to Helena in 1914. She worked as the first female journalist for the HelenaIndependent (Helena, MT), covering Jeannette Rankin's campaign for election to the House of Representatives. The first story Fligelman covered outside of Helena was a speech Rankin made to the General Federation of Women's Clubs in Lewistown in June 1914. Fligelman also held the positions of manager and editor of the Montana Progressive. She worked as an editor and helped to publish the Suffrage Daily News, a short-lived, pro-suffrage newspaper published in Helena during the state's successful final push for statewide suffrage in 1914.
Belle Fligelman, a member of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA), like many other early twentieth-century suffragists, emphasized women's differences from men, advocating for “protective legislation” to gain shorter hours and a minimum wage for women workers. Although pro-temperance, Fligelman never joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
After joining the Republican Women's National Campaign Committee to promote Jeanette Rankin, Fligelman accompanied Rankin, the nation's first female representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, to Washington, D.C., as her secretary from 1916 to 1918. Fligelman also authored a weekly article for the Chicago Herald on Rankin's behalf.
While in Washington, D.C., Belle Fligelman met her future husband, who worked for the U.S. Food Administration. On April 30, 1918, Fligelman married Norman Winestine in Manhattan, New York, where they lived for two years and had their first of three children, Minna, born 1919. Judith was born in 1921, likely in New York, shortly before Belle Fligelman Winestine and her family returned to Helena, also in 1921. Their third and last child, Henry, was born in Helena in 1925.
Thereafter, Belle Fligelman Winestine continued her activism largely from her home state, supporting women's rights and humanitarian causes. Winestine was a lifelong member of the Montana League of Women Voters, the Montana Federation of Women Voters, the State Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Montana Business and Professional Women's Clubs. She was a guest speaker at the Girls' Congress in late 1925 in Bozeman. She also ran for the Montanan state senate in 1932 on the Republican ticket. She employed the slogan “smaller but better senators,” with the central aim of establishing a state children's bureau. She won the Republican primary but lost the election. Winestine helped establish the Mountain View School for Girls in the Helena Valley. Furthermore, she successfully spearheaded a campaign to enable women to serve on juries. In 1939, the bill to permit women on juries made it out of committee and passed the next day, thanks to a massive show of support from women's groups state-wide.
Belle Fligelman Winestine continued her career as a journalist and author. She contributed to the Frontier and Midland at the University of Montana, as well as the Inter-AmericanMagazine. She had a love for writing and was listed in Foley's Short Stories of 1953 for her fiction story published in the Atlantic Monthly. She also wrote a play called “The Gravy Boat,” which was produced by the Pasadena Community Playhouse. As late as June 1979 she wesnt to Illinois “to lobby ratification of the ERA in the Illinois Legislature.” A newspaper account of her activity noted, “She feels strongly that women should share the rights and responsibilities now shared by men, including military duty.”
After a long career in social and political reform, Belle Fligelman Winestine passed away in Helena on April 21, 1985, due to natural causes and the contributing factor of “Cerebral Arteriosclerosis.” She was 94 years old.
CAPTION: Belle Fligelman at the University of Wisconsin, ca. 1913.
CREDIT: Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana. Published in Laura Ferguson, “The Lifelong Quest of Frieda Fligelman and Belle Fligelman Winestine,” Women's History Matters, Montana Historical Society, October 30, 2014, Accessed June 7, 2019, http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-lifelong-quest-of-frieda-fligelman-and-belle-fligelman-winestine/#more-2571.
CAPTION: Belle Fligelman's Campaign Flyer, 1932.
CREDIT: Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana. Published in Laura Ferguson, “The Lifelong Quest of Frieda Fligelman and Belle Fligelman Winestine,” Women's History Matters, Montana Historical Society, October 30, 2014, accessed June 7, 2019, http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-lifelong-quest-of-frieda-fligelman-and-belle-fligelman-winestine/#more-2571.
Abrams, Jeanne E. Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
“Action Is Dismissed.” Sanders County Independent-Ledger (Thompson Falls, MT). 10 February 1937, p.3. Montana Newspapers, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn86075282/1937-02-10/ed-1/seq-3/.
Belle Fligelman Extracted Marriage Index, 1866- 1937. [Census Place: New York, New York,] Ancestry.com.
“Belle Winestine still makes the news,” The Independent Record (Helena, Mont.), June 24, 1979, p. 31.
Ferguson, Laura. “The Lifelong Quest of Frieda Fligelman and Belle Fligelman Winestine.” Women's History Matters. Montana Historical Society. October 30, 2014. Accessed June 7, 2019. http://montanawomenshistory.org/the-lifelong-quest-of-frieda-fligelman-and-belle-fligelman-winestine/#more-2571.
“Fine Speakers For Girls' Vocational: Congress Program at State College to Have Many Appealing Features.” Dillon Examiner (Dillon, MT), November 11, 1925, p.1. Montana Newspapers Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053034/1925-11-11/ed-1/seq-1/.
Hanshew, Annie. “Using Quilts as a Window into Montana Women's History.” Women's History Matters. Montana Historical Society. June 19, 2014. Accessed June 7, 2019. http://montanawomenshistory.org/using-quilts-as-a-window-into-montana-womens-history/.
Leaphart, Susan. “Frieda and Belle Fligelman: A Frontier-City Girlhood in the 1890s.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 32, no. 3 (1982), 85-92.
Montana, County Births and Deaths, 1830- 2011. Montana State Historical Society, Helena, Montana, [FHL Roll: 25-17,] Ancestry.com.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. “Montana,” chapter XXV in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922, pp. 360-367. [LINK]
“Through the Grapevine.” Choteau Acantha (Choteau, MT). May 7, 1997, p.3. Montana Newspapers Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana. http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/sn85053032/1997-05-07/ed-1/seq-3/.
United States Federal Census 1910, [Census Place: Helena, Lewis and Clark, Montana; Roll: T624_833; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0160; FHL microfilm: 1374846,] Ancestry.com.
United States Federal Census 1930, [Census Place: Helena, Lewis and Clark, Montana; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0004; FHL microfilm: 2340993,] Ancestry.com.
U.S. Passport Applications 1795-1925, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington D.C. [Roll #: 1233; Volume #: Roll 1233 - Certificates: 43876-44249, 27 May 1920-28 May 1920,] Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.
Ward, Doris Buck. “The Winning of Woman Suffrage in Montana.” M.A. thesis, Montana State University, 1974. Accessed June 7, 2019. https://scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/6299/31762100209335.pdf?sequence=1.
Winestine Fligelman, Belle. Interview by Diane Sands. August 10, 1977. Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana. Accessed June 7, 2019. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/mtwomen_oralhistory/59/.
Winestine Fligelman, Belle. “Mother Was Shocked.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 24, no. 3 (Summer, 1974), 70-79.