Montana and World War I: Presentations

Throughout the centennial, the Montana Historical Society will be hosting presentations relating to Montana and the Great War. MHS records most of the presentations given at the Society and streams them on its YouTube channel or through SoundCloud. Those relating to World War I are posted below. Check back often for new programs.


What Can We Learn from World War I? What does it mean to be a “good American”? How are immigrants changing America? Do foreign nationals living in the United States pose a threat to our security or “way of life”? What should be the limits of free speech? These burning questions occupied Montanans, especially during 1917 and 1918 as thousands of Montana boys left the state to join the “the war to end all wars.” Exactly 100 years ago to the day after the United States entered World War I, Montana Historical Society staff members Senior Archivist Rich Aarstad and Historical Specialist Martha Kohl lead the audience in an opportunity to reexamine these questions, informed by the history of Montana and the Great War. (April 6, 2017)


A Country Doctor and the Epidemics, Montana 1917-1918. Dr. Steven Helgerson —the Montana State Medical Officer from 2006 to 2015—discusses his new historic novel, A Country Doctor and the Epidemics, Montana 1917-1918. A Country Doctor tells the story of a small-town physician and the people he serves during the turbulent years of World War I. The doctor struggles with the limitations of the medical science, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic and personal tragedy.


Women's War Work. During the Great War, Many Montana women chose to break gender barriers by serving as nurses and radio operators. Those who remained in Montana were often recruited by the Red Cross for local events and fundraising. In addition to their days’ regular chores they learned to Hooverize. They recycled, canned, knit, served meatless meals, rationed butter and wheat, and raised their children while awaiting news from the front. Many battled the Spanish Influenza, while others became Gold Star Mothers after losing loved ones. MHS Reference Historian Zoe Ann Stoltz details the vital role that Montana women played in WWI. 


Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917. World War I–era Butte was a volatile jumble of antiwar protest, seething labor unrest, and divisive ethnic tension. Against that explosive backdrop, the worst hard-rock mining disaster in American history began a half hour before midnight on June 8, 1917, when fire broke out in the North Butte Mining Company’s Granite Mountain shaft. Michael Punke recounts the tragic tale and heroic actions of the miners who fought to survive. Punke is author of Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917; Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West; and The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. Now a resident of Missoula and vice president of Global Public Policy (AWS), Punke is also former United States Ambassador to the World Trade Organization. (Recorded at the Montana State Capitol by TVMT, September 21, 2017.)


Montana and the Great War: What I Know Now. Among the great pleasures of research is the joy of discovery, learning things that startle you and make you reexamine your assumptions. MHS Historical Specialist Martha Kohl shares some of the surprises she encountered while working on the Montana Historical Society’s new website, Montana and the Great War.


Frank Little and the IWW. Franklin Henry Little (1878–1917), an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), fought in some of the early twentieth century’s most contentious labor and free-speech struggles. Following his lynching in Butte, Montana, his life and legacy became shrouded in tragedy and family secrets. In her book, Frank Little and the IWW, author Jane Little Botkin chronicles her great-granduncle’s fascinating life and reveals its connections to the history of American labor and the first Red Scare. Having scoured the West for firsthand sources in family, library, and museum collections, Botkin melds the personal narrative of an American family with the story of the labor movements that once shook the nation to its core. In doing so, she throws into sharp relief the lingering consequences of political repression. (September 28, 2017)