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History, Goals, & Authorizations

Montana Historical Society Overview

Governed by a 15-member Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees who are appointed by the Governor. Trustees select the MHS Director and set policy. Created February 2, 1865; became a state agency March 4, 1891. Statutory mandate (22-3-101 MCA):

" . . . an agency of state government for the use, learning, culture, and enjoyment of the citizens of the state and for the acquisition, preservation, and protection of historical records, art, archival, and museum objects, historical places, sites, and monuments and the custody, maintenance, and operation of the historical library, museums, art galleries, and historical places, sites, and monuments."


Roles and Responsibilities

  • Preserve for future generations representative selection of all historic resources (art, records, books, photographs, oral histories, artifacts, journals, sites, buildings) important to an understanding of Montana history.
  • Present and provide educational and public programs, reference services, exhibits, and publications that interpret Montana's past to a broad public.
  • Provide technical assistance to all organizations that preserve and interpret additional historic resources that help Montanans and her visitors understand the region's past

Director:  Bruce Whittenberg
Current President of Board: Bob Brown

Mission Statement

The Montana Historical Society (MHS) promotes an understanding and appreciation of Montana's cultural heritage-past, present & future.

To fulfill this mission the MHS:

  • collects, preserves and provides access to historical resources held in trust by the MHS;
  • produces educational and engaging exhibits, public programs, and publications
  • protects and preserves historic sites and cultural resources; and
  • provides leadership to those with similar goals.

Original Governor's Mansion

Created: Acquired by the State in 1913 as the first official governor's residence. The MHS assumed administrative responsibility for the OGM in 1981 and now operates it as a historic house museum.

Advisory Board: 14-member Helena-based Original Governor's Mansion Restoration Society. Note advisory role only. This property is directly administered by the MHS Museum Program.

Roles and Responsibilities:

  • Preserve the building and grounds as a professionally presented historic house museum.
  • Provide opportunities for educational tours and events.

OGM Restoration Society Chair: Marcus Meyer

Entities Administratively Attached to the Montana Historical Society

Moss Mansion

Created: 1985 Governing Boards: community preservation boards who hire local site managers and set policy. Statutory responsibility (72-16-445 MCA):

". . . allow payment of inheritance and estate taxes by the transfer to the state of unique objects of significant historical or artistic interest, extremely unique sites or buildings of historical interest, and easements and other recognized interests in land to conserve unique open space and to preserve wildlife habitat, park, recreational, historic, aesthetic, cultural, and natural values on or related to land, while limiting the impact of such transfers on the revenue collected under this chapter."

Roles and Responsibilities: Assume responsibilities for preservation, public accessibility, and public education at these state-owned historic properties.

Relationship to the Montana Historical Society: MHS owns this property for the State. The City of Billings holds a 38.5% interest in the property and delegates all administrative responsibility to local boards via legal agreements which give MHS oversight of physical changes to the property or actions which could encumber the state.

Other Private Sector Players

Montana History Foundation: A 501 (c) (3) organization created to raise endowments, large gifts, and administer special campaigns on behalf of the Montana Historical Society and associated sites.



1865 - Created in Virginia City by Montana's First Territorial Legislature, making it the oldest institution of its kind west of the Mississippi.

1874 - Moved to Helena.

1891 - Made a state agency by the state legislature.

1902 - Moved into the basement of the newly constructed State Capitol Building.

1949 - Board of Trustees expanded; agency redefined by the legislature to current format with most current duties; plans for Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building to serve as home for MHS began.

1951 - K. Ross Toole hired as first official MHS director.

1953 - Veterans and Pioneers Memorial Building dedicated.

1963 - Fine arts responsibilities added to the MHS mandate by the legislature.

1973 - MHS receives initial accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.

1977 - Historic Preservation Office transferred to MHS from Fish and Game Department.

1981 - MHS assumes administrative responsibility for the Original Governor's Mansion.

1985 - Given overisight of the Moss Mansion in Billings by the legislature.

1995 - After it led the charge to save historic Virginia City and Nevada City, MHS is given oversight of Montana Heritage Commission and Virginia City and Nevada City assets by the legislature.

1996 - Given oversight of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission by the legislature.

2003 - Oversight of Montana Heritage Commission and Virginia & Nevada City assets transferred from MHS to the Department of Commerce by the legislature.

2007 - MHS becomes a Smithsonian Affiliate.

2007 - Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission sunsets.

2015 - 150th anniversary of the Montana Historical Society.


Goals and Objectives

The MHS's goals are:

  • To maintain a library and an historical museum, to provide educational programs and services for teachers and the general public, and to publish the state historical magazine and books;
  • To acquire, preserve and protect historical records, art, archives, museum objects, historical places, sites and monuments;
  • To provide overall direction and management for the society to achieve its goals and statutory responsibilities. The management of the society includes supervising five programs of the MHS.
  • To serve as a spokesperson and fundraiser for the agency.
  • To maintain fiscal management and personnel management of the MHS.
  • To provide overall security for collections of the society. Security includes maintenance of the intrusion security system, passive observation of visitors, crowd control etc.
  • To provide timely and pertinent information on policies, programs and issues relevant to the operation of the Montana Historical Society.
  • To provide encouragement and technical assistance to all community museum, archives and preservation efforts.

Agency-wide Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Administration Program

  • To restructure the membership program to make membership in the MHS more attractive so that the program will increase at a dramatic rate.
  • To put the Montana Post back into print to maintain contact with our membership and to keep them informed of our efforts and needs in protecting, preserving, and presenting the best in Montana's storied history

Administration Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Research Center Program

  • To develop and improve the nation's most comprehensive collection of research materials related to the history of Montana and the West.
  • To assist the public in the use and enjoyment of the collections by providing courteous, timely and accurate reference assistance to researchers of all types; by providing reproductions of materials in the collections; and by providing select materials to remote users via interlibrary loan.
  • To make the collections accessible and useful to the public through their proper and timely accessioning and processing, the production of appropriate catalogs, inventories and other finding aids; and by participation in digital catalogs and online databases.
  • To act as the official archives for the state of Montana, thereby preserving and providing access to the permanent records of state and local government in Montana.

MHS Research Center Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Museum Program

  • To preserve the collections for the use and enjoyment of future generations through proper processing, handling, storage, security, environmental controls, and knowledgeable application of preservation technologies and methodologies.
  • To systematically develop and improve the museum's permanent collection through the acquisition of art and artifacts appropriate to the mission of the MHS, i.e., items that pertain to the history and culture of Montana and the geographic region.
  • To preserve the museum collections for the use and enjoyment of future generations through the maintenance and improvement of clean, safe and controlled environments; the adherence to museum standards of collections care; the improvement of collections management, specifically by automating permanent records; regular maintenance of the historic house museum we administer, i.e. the Original Governor's Mansion; and the expansion of our commitment to artifact conservation.
  • To protect and preserve the permanent artwork in the State Capitol, and within the Capitol Complex, by inspecting, maintaining, and arranging for conservation of the art, in addition to the care and preservation of art items removed from the Capitol.
  • To provide quality educational exhibits and programming for our statewide and national audiences at Montana's Museum, the Original Governor's Mansion and the State Capitol through: maintenance and upgrading of permanent exhibits; the development of at least one major temporary exhibit per year; the development of occasional traveling exhibits for statewide distribution; the continued restoration of the historic house museum we administer, i.e. the Original Governor's Mansion; and the planning and implementation of educational programming to reach as many segments of our audience and the largest number of people as possible with a variety of activities, such as guided and self-guided tours, lectures, workshops, school programs, conferences, etc. During FY06 Montana's Museum had 38,776 visitors, not only from all over the United States and the world, including individuals, adult tours, school tours, etc. There were 1,646 visitors to the Original Governor's Mansion; 11,273 people toured the State Capitol; and 43,649 people attended public programs or were provided outreach services.

MHS Museum Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Publications Program

  • To continue publication of Montana The Magazine of Western History, the state's award-winning quarterly history journal, the only one of its kind, which is distributed throughout Montana, in all 50 states, and to 17 foreign countries.
  • To distribute each year 50,000 copies of the magazine, including more than 1,000 copies to Montana schools and libraries and more than 1,000 copies to out of state schools and libraries; to review almost 200 prospective manuscripts; and edit and publish some 100 articles on Montana and the West.
  • To continue operation of the Montana Historical Society Press, the state's only scholarly book publishing house, which distributes some 10,000 copies of books on Montana history and literature each year and which has won awards for quality and significance of its projects.
  • To review 10 book-length manuscripts and proposals and edit and produce 3 to 4 books each year.

MHS Publications Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Historic Preservation Program

  • To inspire and help Montanans to preserve sites and buildings significant to an understanding of Montana's prehistoric and historic past through research, recordation, education, and recognition. Specifically, for 2013-2017, to:
  • To provide owners of significant historic and prehistoric properties (both public and private) with detailed technical preservation expertise, information, and user-friendly access to available programs and other resources, especially state and federal incentives targeted for historic preservation;
  • To minimize inadvertent and unnecessary harm to Montana's significant historic and prehistoric buildings and sites by reviewing and providing data and comments to federal and state agencies on their proposed projects, decisions, and licenses; and
  • To develop and implement the goals and objectives of the approved five-year statewide Historic Preservation Plan (HPP).
  • Installation or maintenance of roadside historical signs and historic sites.
  • To provide National Register signs to persons, organizations and agencies that own properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, historical markers for the Old Forts Trail and other markers for designated Montana Heritage properties, erected for the education of the visiting public are included.
  • To maintain specific state owned Montana historic sites.
  • Administer preservation and antiquities acts, supporting commissions with state historical orientation, and providing technical assistance to all Montana museums, historical societies, preservation programs and owners of historical resources.
  • Assist property owners in the evaluation and the nomination of properties (individual and contributors to districts) to the National Register of Historic Places;
  • Assist and secure funding, as available, for local community, county, or historical or archaeological organization projects for systematic survey and research of Montana neighborhoods, geographic regions, or types of properties.
  • Maintain and add to the statewide inventory of locations of survey and of known and recorded historic and archaeological properties in Montana (State Antiquities Database).
  • Answer letter, phone, and personal requests with information and presentations, including public education programs, written materials and guidance, staff evaluation and comments, site and survey report file information, and participation in workshops and training sessions.
  • Actively assist historic buildings owners to use federal and state historic preservation income tax credits for substantial rehabilitation projects.
  • Secure, award, and administer federal funds designated for local Montana governments with preservation commissions and ordinances that participate in the federal Certified Local Government (CLG) program.
  • When such federal funds are authorized and appropriated by Congress, secure, award, and administer a competitive, rehabilitation ("brick-and-mortar") re-grant program for owners of properties listed in the National Register.
  • Respond in a timely manner to requests for comments and concurrence from federal and state agencies on historic significance and values, effects of projects, anticipated likelihood of site existence, and the nature of study needed to avoid adverse impacts.
  • Work cooperatively with agencies, organizations, and applicants to develop efficient and effective means for compliance with state and federal preservation law and regulations.

MHS Historic Preservation Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)

Education Program

  • To further public appreciation of Montana's heritage places through educational materials including public programs and publications.
  • To plan and oversee the annual state history conference.
  • To provide accurate information on historical and technical subjects to individuals, representatives of cultural organizations, governmental agencies, the educational community and others through the timely response to inquiries about the museum collections; assistance to scholars and students working on museum related topics; the maintenance and distribution of photographs of museum collections; technical assistance provided to other museums and cultural institutions; and the presentation of programs related to material culture and technical topics to interested groups throughout the state.
  • To administer and expand the Volunteer Program of the Society. Over 134 volunteers assist paid staff in providing interpretation of Montana history, art and culture through tours, school services, conferences, workshops and other public events; providing reference information to patrons; and assisting with collections care and management to help preserve Montana's material culture.

MHS Education Measureable Objectives for the 2017 Biennium (PDF)


MHS Authorizations

Please see the Montana Code Annotated 2014 for authorizations as follows.

Administration Program

  • 22-3-101, MCA - Historical Society
  • 22-3-107, MCA - Authority of the Board
  • 22-3-108, MCA - Function of Director
  • 22-3-111, MCA - Financing of Society
  • 15-65-121, MCA - Distribution of tax proceeds

Research Center Program

  • 22-3-103, MCA - Historical Library
  • 22-3-107, MCA - Board Authority
  • 22-3-201-221, MCA - Preservation of Records

Museum Program

  • 22-3-101, MCA - Historical Society
  • 22-3-103, MCA - Independence from other libraries, museums, or galleries
  • 22-3-113, MCA - Acquisitions Trust
  • 22-3-501, MCA  - Museum Loan Act
  • 22-3-501-523, MCA - Capitol Complex Master Plan

Publications Program

  • 22-3-107(15), MCA - Promote the study of Montana history by lectures and publications
  • 22-3-111, MCA - Financing of society

Historic Preservation Program

  • 22-3-401 through 22-3-442, MCA - MT Antiquities Authority and Preservation Office Duties
  • 16 U.S.C. 470 - National Historic Preservation Act: Outlines actions required to receive federal preservation funds and participate in National Register programs
  • 26 U.S.C. 48(g) - Internal Revenue Code that outlines procedures for certified preservation rehabilitation

Education Program

  • 22-3-107(15), MCA - Promote the study of Montana history by lectures and publications
  • 22-3-111, MCA - Financing of Society


MHS Biennial Reports

2017 Biennial Report (PDF)
2015 Biennial Report (PDF)
2013 Biennial Report (PDF)


Montana State-Owned Heritage Properties

2014 Biennial Report (PDF)
2012 Biennial Report (PDF)