Full name: Bernice Selfridge Forbes
University of Montana School of Law, Class of 1915
First Woman to Graduate from the University of Montana School of Law
“The Montana State University School of Law, later to become the University of Montana School of Law, held its first classes on September 13, 1911.”
“In 1912, the first woman student, Bernice Forbes, took courses in the law school.”
According to a Dedication booklet, celebrating the first fifty years of the law school, and published in 1961:
“Although she had not yet completed her pre-legal work and hence was not included in the registration record of 21 students, Bernice Selfridge (now Mrs. Bernice Selfridge Forbes) was allowed to take two law courses, ‘with the dubious consent of the law faculty.’ . . . This, it may be observed, was two years prior to adoption of the amendment to the Montana Constitution giving women equal suffrage and the right to hold public office, although the Constitution of 1889 had accorded women the right of admission to all departments of the state university. Miss Selfridge, incidentally, was a member of the campus Equal Suffrage Club.”
After graduation in 1915, Ms. Forbes did not practice law. She married in 1918, had two children, and became a teacher and high school principal, mostly in Oregon, for the rest of her work life.
7 June 1912 — Daily Missoulian
“President Duniway] also read the names of those who have won scholarships in other lines during the year. The Bonner scholarship was awarded to Miss Bernice Selfridge. . . . The Bonner scholarship is offered every three years to the freshman showing the highest record in scholarship and adjudged most deserving in other ways of the prize. It carries $300 a year for three years.”
4 June 1915 — Butte Miner — “Butte Girl Wins Distinction at U; Miss Bernice Selfridge First Maid to Receive an L. L. B. at Institution”
“Miss Bernice Selfridge of Butte, who will receive a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of law degree at the University of Montana commencement exercises tomorrow will have the distinction of being the first girl to receive an L.L. B. at the university.
Miss Selfridge has been one of the foremost girls in the university during her four years here, always taking an active part in school affairs as well as maintaining her standing in the classroom. Four years ago she was awarded the E. L. Bonner scholarship, an award made to the best freshman student every four years.
Miss Selfridge did not state whether or not she would begin to practice law this year.”
11 July 1915 — Anaconda Standard — “FIRST WOMAN GRADUATE FROM STATE LAW SCHOOL”
“Miss Bernice Selfridge of this city holds the distinction of being the first young lady graduate of the law department of the University of Montana. She graduated from the Butte high school in 1912 and has spent the four years since making special preparation for a legal career.
Miss Selfridge was admitted to practice by the supreme court of Montana last Tuesday. She could have been admitted sooner had it depended upon her knowledge of the law and ability to qualify in that respect. However, there is a requirement that a person must be 21 years of age to be admitted to practice and Miss Selfridge had to wait until her twenty-first birthday before she could secure the required order from the supreme court.”
14 June 1916 — Anaconda Standard — “Selfridge’s Case Before the Court”
“Judge Lynch is Reviewing the Action of Mayor Lane; Engaged by Mayor Duncan; Assigned to the fire department as machinist and did duty also as fireman — Wants to be reinstated on force from which was dropped.”
“Bert Selfridge’s fight to get reinstated in the fire department came up yesterday before Judge Lynch in the district court. Selfridge was placed on the department list as machinist by then Mayor Lane. The proceeding brought was for the purpose of having the action of Mayor Lane set aside, and Selfridge given a place in the department again. The city resisted the effort on the ground that no provision was made by law for the position to which Selfridge was appointed by Mayor Duncan.
Mayor Lane was represented in the action by Assistant City Attorneys Rotering and Growneveld. Selfridge was represented by Attorney W. E. Carroll and Miss Bernice Selfridge. The latter is a niece of Selfridge. She studied law at the state university, and was admitted to practice after examination by the supreme court. . . .”
14 April 1918 — Anaconda Standard
“On Sunday, April 7, at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dean W. Selfridge, 817 Colorado Street, Bernice Selfridge and Lucius E. Forbes of Harlowton, were united in marriage, the Rev. Walter M. Jordan officiating.”
24 May 1964 — Statesman Journal — “Classroom Work Spans 40 Years”
“An impatient young law graduate, who took up teaching because she was too young to be admitted to practice, is ending a classroom career here that has spanned nearly 40 years.
Perrydale students of two decades gathered here recently to help pay homage to Mrs. Bernice Forbes whose retirement as a science and math teacher comes at the end of the current school year.
Mrs. Forbes started teaching science at Melrose, Mont., High School back in 1915 while waiting for her 21st birthday to come along. She mixed teaching and family-raising in both Montana and Oregon, teaching also at Pedee High School before starting at Perrydale in 1944.
First Woman Graduate
She had the distinction of being the first woman to receive a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Montana, along with a bachelor of science degree at the age of 20. But that was a year too young to be admitted to practice law.
Mrs. Forbes met the man she was to marry while both were attending the University of Montana and in 1918 they were married at Corvallis, Mont. Her husband, Lucius Elder Forbes, was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a bachelor degree in psychology. He later received his Doctors and Masters degree. He is now deceased.
Raised Two Sons
Mrs. Forbes interrupted her teaching career to raise her two sons, Lucius E., a graduate of the University of Oregon and now school psychologist in Yakima, Wash., schools.
The second son, Dean, is also a University of Oregon graduate. He did graduate work at Stanford University. He served in the Air Force in World War II and at present is a research tester for the Baltimore, Md. district. Both sons are working toward their doctor degrees, which they hope to complete this summer.
Forbes, a psychology teacher at Oregon College of Education, took graduate work in Seattle for three years, during which time Mrs. Forbes taught at the Vashon, Wash. High School.
Mrs. Forbes was twice president of the Monmouth Parent Teacher Association and also president of the Civil Club during the many years she has made Monmouth her home.
Every class which had attended Perrydale High School during her years there was represented at a reception in her honor earlier this month.
Many came from distant towns — LaGrande, Glendale, Portland, Eddyville, Springfield, Albany, Bend, Seattle, and Bellevue, Wash.
A scrapbook of pictures of former students and their families and post cards and letter from those unable to attend, was compiled by Mrs. Dan Van Otten Sr., a former Perrydale teacher, and her committee for the event.
Mrs. Forbes was presented with a silver plated, indexed, address file, inscribed “To Mrs. Forbes, In Appreciation” 1944-1964 from the community, by Al Wilson, chairman of the school board.”
4 December 1969 — Oregonian — “Mrs. Bernice Forbes
Mrs. Bernice Forbes, 75, a longtime teacher in Willamette Valley schools in Oregon and the first woman ever to earn a law degree at the University of Montana, died here Tuesday in a local hospital.
Mrs. Forbes was born and reared in Butte, Mont., and earned her BA and LL.B. degrees at the University of Montana. Instead of going into law, she became a teacher for some 30 years prior to her retirement in 1965.
She taught school in the Wenas Valley near Yakima, Vashon Island off Seattle, and later in the Willamette Valley. At the time of her retirement she was teaching grade and science classes in the Perrydale School District near McMinnville.
She was a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma honorary.
Four years ago she moved to Yakima where she made a home with a son, Lucius Forbes.
Other survivors include another son, Dean, Beaverton; a sister, Mrs. Geraldine Harvey, Butte; and two grandchildren.
Memorial service will be Friday in Yakima at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Cremation will follow.”
25 June 1894, in Butte, Montana
Dean Selfridge and Elizabeth Kempsey
1 sister and 1 brother
University of Montana
LL.B., University of Montana School of Law, 1912-1915
Lucius Elder Forbes on 7 April 1918
- Corvallis, Montana
- Yakima, Washington
- Monmouth, Oregon
2 December 1969