17 June 1893, at Leeds, North Dakota
Elisha Bartlett Page and Alice Sinclair Atkins (“Birdie”)
Eldest of four children
One and one-half years at Albert Lea College, Minnesota
- Ingvald Lauritz Knudson in 1911 (died on 7 August 1928)
- Norman Barncord on 2 September 1929 (divorced in 1934)
- George Edward Steinmetz on 7 November 1938 (divorced in 1949)
Full, three-year course at La Salle Extension University
Law Office Study:
Two years with Norman Barncord, lawyer licensed in Montana
Admitted to Practice:
- Montana 1931
- United States Supreme Court 1956
- Assistant cashier at Farmers National Bank, Harlowton
- Secretary of Wheatland Building and Loan Association
- Public Administrator of Wheatland County
- Licensed insurance agent, Montana
- Real estate broker, Montana
- Lawyer, Montana
- Federal Deposit Liquidation Board, 1932-1935
- “Assistant” to State Purchasing Agent, Helena
- Legislative Assistant to Usher L. Burdick, January 1, 1951–1959
articles and poetry, published in various national magazines and papers
4 July 1988
11 June 1967 — Billings Gazette — “Laura Page — belle of early 1900s,” by Paul L. Van Cleve IV
“Mellow notes of a [baritone] punctured the 5 a.m. stillness of the attractive residential street in Leeds, N. D., on a summer morning of 1909. Almost immediately, from the imposing residence of Elisha Bartlett Page across the street drifted the tinkling of a piano playing the same musical number . . . Thus it was that Laura William Page and Ingvald Luaritz Knudson carried on the early stages of a romance that led to marriage, a family, and eventually a law career for Mrs. Knudson, culminating in her admittance to practice law before the highest court in the land — the United States Supreme Court.
Laura was born on her father’s farm near Leeds, the [eldest] of four children. Her mother, Alice Sinclair Atkins, was the youngest daughter of Capt. Carroll Jones Atkins, owner and pilot of steamships on the Missouri River in the 1860s. Her father, Elisha Bartlett Page, farmed extensively, owned a lumber yard, grain elevators and the bank in Leeds, as well as banks in other North Dakota towns.
Laura’s husband-to-be, Ingvald Knudson, was born in Audubon, Minn., graduated from the University of North Dakota with a law degree, and was in charge of the bank in Leeds when he began a musical ‘code’ on the baritone and piano before he left for his job at the bank. Laura recalls, ‘Dad laughed at our musical shenanigans in later years, but he didn’t find it very amusing at the time!’
Ingvald and Laura were married at her parents’ home in Devil’s Lake, N. D., in 1911, and returned to Leeds. In 1917 they moved, with their three daughters, to Harlowton, where Ingvald had been instrumental in founding the Farmers’ National Bank.
In 1922, it became apparent that Ingvald was suffering from cancer and in 1928 [with his family with him] he died at Long Lake, Minn., where he had gone to be near his parents.
After Ingvald’s death, Laura sent her three daughters to college at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin. She then opened and managed a successful real estate and insurance business, handled the secretarial end of a Harlowton loan association, and at the same time studied law through the LaSalle Extension University in Chicago.
Completing the three-year course in 14 months, Laura took the examination for her degree from Ralph Anderson, who later became an Associate Judge of the Montana Supreme Court, and received her law degree in 1931. She immediately took the Montana Bar examination and was . . . admitted to practice law in the state.
A member of the examining board, the late H. Leonard DeKalb of Lewistown, confided that she had passed with higher marks than any previous applicant. Twenty-five years later, in a letter to Laura, he reminisced, ‘When we were grading the answers, and whenever we should hit a tough question, somebody would say “Let’s see what No. 6 has to say about it,” and uniformly we found that No. 6 knew the answer. All kinds of guessing went on. No. 6 was guessed to be the son of a judge who had got his training at Harvard of Stanford.’
‘Chairman of the board at that time was not kindly disposed towards women being admitted to practice. It didn’t do him any good to have that attitude because he couldn’t know which were the women or which were the men until the final key was delivered. When No. 6 came up to have a name fitted to it, the name was Laura Knudson. The chairman muttered, “It’s that damn woman!” meaning nothing personal, of course, but showing his attitude.’
Laura tried her first case in Lewistown before Judge Huntoon. ‘It was an uncontested divorce case, tried in chambers, but I was scared to death! I guess I am what one would call a “book lawyer,” as I did not try a case to a jury; I did not like courtroom work. I was more interested in researching cases and planning strategy.’
In 1932, she was admitted to practice in the United States’ District Court of Montana, and in 1938, when her daughters were all married, Laura worked in law offices in Denver before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1946. On Jan. 1, 1951, she accepted a position as Legislative Assistant to Sen. [sic — Representative] Usher L. Burdick of North Dakota. On March 8, 1956, Laura’s law career reached its zenith when ‘Rollcall,’ the Capitol Hill newspaper, announced her admittance to practice before the United States Supreme Court. She was sponsored by the late Sen. James Murray of Montana, Sen. O’Mahoney of Wyoming, and Sen. Langer of North Dakota. Although no exact statistics are available, the best estimates from Supreme Court sources indicate that Laura is one of two Montana women so honored, and quite possibly the only one living in the state now.
When Sen. [Representative] Burdick decided not to run for reelection in 1959, Laura retired and moved to Big Timber, where she now makes her home. One of her daughters, Mrs. Paul Van Cleve III, lives nearby. Laura maintains her license to practice law, one of only 22 women so licensed.
In reflecting on her life in the nation’s capital, Laura regards her introduction to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1957 as one of the high points. ‘When I came to shake the Queen’s hand I was so concentrating on addressing her in the proper form that I was astounded when she asked me how long I had been in the Congress. I could only mutter and stammer, ‘Oh, about five years’ — anything but a gracious and dignified answer! But by then I was speaking to Prince Phillip. He was a darling — had a grand sense of humor.’
Today, Laura pursues her hobbies of historical research and writing, and traveling to Canada, Colorado, or Florida to visit her daughters and other relatives. She maintains her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the Order of the Eastern Star. Her interests range widely, from international politics to Oriental art, an outstanding collection of which she began to acquire while living in Washington. She also takes pride in her collection of South American objects, acquired during a lengthy stay in Santiago, Chile, several years ago.
In summing up her life, Laura remarks, ‘I’d make a few changes if I had it all to do over again, but generally speaking, I’m satisfied.'”