Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Maggie Smith Hathaway, 1867-1955

By Natalie Zacharewski, MA, History, University of Ottawa (2012)

Educator, temperance advocate, suffragist, state legislator


Maggie Smith Hathaway outlined her positions on Prohibition, Child Welfare, and a "Workable Farm Loan Law" in this 1916 campaign flier. Maggie Smith Hathaway Collection, Mss 224, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana

Born in 1867 in Ohio, Maggie Smith Hathaway began teaching at the age of fifteen. She also was active in the Epworth League, a Methodist organization. After moving with her parents to Stevensville, Montana, in 1893, she joined the Montana Epworth League, becoming president of the organization in 1895. Smith continued to work as a teacher, becoming county superintendent of schools in Helena in 1894, prior to her marriage to Benjamin Tappan Hathaway, deputy superintendent of the State Department of Public Instruction, in 1911. She was widowed six months into the marriage.

Hathaway became involved in the statewide suffrage campaign in 1914 when her mother signed her up to speak at a meeting for the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Early in her political career, she saw her role in the movement as focusing on her male colleagues who would be voting in the next election. This was identified as an elite strategy in Montana, where activists focused on lobbying elite members of the legislature. Her tactics were seen as a critical contribution to Montana women gaining the right to vote in 1914. Even after the vote was won in Montana, Hathaway continued to stump for the cause in the eastern states.

Hathaway was one of the first two women elected to the Montana state legislature, gaining a seat as the Ravalli County representative in 1916 and serving from 1917 until 1921. A Democrat, she worked closely with Emma Ingalls, a Republican from Flathead County, to promote legal reform. On February 1, 1917, Hathaway was the first woman to sit in the speaker's chair in the Montana legislature after being asked to preside by the Speaker of the House. In 1920, her fellow Democrats elected her as minority floor leader. She was the first woman in U.S. history to hold this post.

Hathaway was a champion for the disenfranchised. Her style was described as being characterized by "ingenuity, good humor and sparkling wit; sincerity of purpose, persistent effort, convincing speech to capture the attention, interest and support of the males who had the right to vote." Unlike Jeannette Rankin, who received criticism for her opposition to the United States' entry into World War One, Hathaway maintained her popularity by supporting the armed forces by employing only women on her ranch, so that more men could join the service. She also capitalized on her moral values, her ranching background, and her ties to the labor and prohibition movements.

Known by her male colleagues in the legislature as "Mrs-Has-Her-Way," Hathaway supported prohibition, labor rights, and child welfare. She drafted the Montana Mother's Pension Bill, which provided financial support for poor mothers, and the nation's first law ensuring equal pay for equal work. She also worked to create a state child welfare division and to establish an eight-hour workday for women workers.

After completing two terms in the Montana legislature, Hathaway ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She served as secretary of the Bureau of Child Protection from 1925 to 1928. She continued to advance child welfare and public welfare in a variety of roles throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Maggie Smith Hathaway died in 1955.


"Maggie Smith Hathaway",

"Maggie Smith Hathaway",

Maggie Smith Hathaway Collection, Mss 224, Archives and Special Collection, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana

Clark, Patsy. "Maggie Smith Hathaway: Montana's Unsung Progressive Era Reformer." In Extraordinary Women of the Rocky Mountain West, edited by Tim Blevins, Dennis Daily, Chris Nichols, Calvin P. Otto, and Katherine Scott Sturdevant. Pikes Peak Library District, 2010. Pp. 225-244.

Tascher, Harold. Maggie and Montana: A Story of Maggie Smith Hathaway (Exposition Press, 1954).

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