Doris Swords Poppler ’48

University of Montana School of Law, Class of 1948+++++poppler

First Female United States Attorney for the District of Montana (March 1990)


+++++10 November 1924


+++++LLoyd W. Swords and Edna Luella Mowre


+++++one sister and one brother

Undergraduate Education:

+++++University of Minnesota 1942-1944

Military Service:

+++++U.S. Navy WAVES, Fall 1944-Summer 1946

Other lawyers in family:

  • Grandfather, George W. Swords, University of Iowa 1895
  • Father, Lloyd W. Swords, University of Montana 1923
  • Spouse, Louis E. Poppler, University of Montana 1948

Legal Education:

+++++LL.B., University of Montana School of Law 1948

Admitted to Practice:

+++++Montana 1948


  • Louis E. Poppler on 11 June 1949
  • Widowed on 25 May 1972


+++++Yes, 6 children

Job History — Legal

  • Associate Attorney, Lloyd W. Swords, December 1948-June 1949
  • Public Defender, Yellowstone County, 1976-March 1980
  • Deputy County Attorney, Yellowstone County, September 1972-1976
  • Partner, Poppler and Barz, March 1973-December 1979
  • Partner, Davidson, Veeder, Baugh, Broeder, Poppler, and Michelotti, January 1980-December 1984
  • Partner, Davidson and Poppler, January 1985-February 1990
  • United States Attorney, District of Montana, March 1990-April 1993
  • Senior Field Agent, National Indian Gaming Commission, 1993-2002


  • Candidate for Montana Supreme Court Justice 1984
  • Member, Billings City Council (2001-2004), voted Deputy Mayor Billings by fellow council members

Civic Honors and Activities (a sampling):

  • President, Billings Junior Service League
  • President, Billings Junior Achievement
  • Member, Boys and Girls Club of Billings and Yellowstone County
  • Chairman, Yellowstone Metra Exhibition Commission
  • Chairman, Billings School Board
  • Board of Trustees, School District #2
  • Montana School Board Association
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Women’s International Forum
  • Rotary International
  • Board of Trustees, Rocky Mountain College
  • Montana Human Rights Commission
  • Board of Directors, First Bank, Billings


+++++12 December 2004

Reasons for Studying Law:

+++++“When I was attending the U. of Minnesota in 1944 I was admitted to the law school for the fall term if I desired as my grades and activities were excellent and the law school attendance was very low due to World War II. I chose to enlist in the WAVES instead of returning to school in the fall. One had to reach their 20th birthday in order to enlist, so I enlisted on my twentieth birthday. While in the service, I was trained to be a Storekeeper, which involved learning to type, keep books and other duties of supply. As there were few women stationed at Key West, Florida, I got my first experience of being a woman in a male oriented world. this experience, replete with male macho resentment, armed me for becoming the only woman in the law school for two of my three years there. The self discipline I learned in the service has stayed with me throughout my career. This was one of the most positive experiences I have had and I am very proud to have served my country in a time of war.

+++++I wanted to become a lawyer because it was a real challenge. I love to read, I find the law fascinating and I had been exposed to the law through my father and grandfather. Although I have never been a student of history, the government and the laws were of great interest to me, and the study of law allowed me to write, think, argue and grow.

+++++Because the veterans had all returned in the Summer and Fall of 1946, spaces were at a premium for law school. The Dean was very helpful in letting me enroll as I am one of the graduates with five years of college rather than six or seven. I was not only the only woman in my class, but also the youngest as veterans with degrees and with families were there at the same time. For example, Justice Wes Castles was in my class, at least ten years older than I. I was also single and living in the annex of my sorority house, and quite involved in its activities. My first year was difficult as I had to prove to faculty and classmates that I was smart enough, tough enough, old enough and not going to waste a place in the class by getting married and not practicing law. Once the year was behind me, the classmates became fast friends who I have treasured every since and who were the most supportive of me when I returned to the practice of law upon the death of my husband, Lou, in 1971.”

Advice to Women Law Students Today

  • “Work hard.
  • Participate in school activities.
  • Accept a compliment or an offensive remark appropriately.
  • Don’t look for hidden insults.
  • Keep your appearance professional.
  • Keep your relationships cordial, but be careful of your reputation, it will follow you into practice.
  • Don’t criticize other women attorneys.  It’s easy to fall into that trap when the good old boys start in on someone’s reputation.
  • Think of yourself always as a lawyer who is a woman rather than a woman lawyer.
  • Try to develop a specialty which law firms need.  General practice is hard and almost obsolete.
  • Don’t be strident.  Take voice lessons if necessary.
  • Have fun.  It’s a wonderful profession and we are good at it.”

Copyright © 2015 “Montana’s Early Women Lawyers — dedicated to the stories of the women admitted to practice in Montana between 1889 and 1950.” All rights reserved.

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