Full name: Opal Louise Replogle Rankin Galt
University of Montana School of Law, Class of 1946
December 2, 2013 — Missoulian (by Charles S. Johnson)
“Louise Replogle Rankin Galt, who died last month at age 90, led a remarkable life as a Montana attorney, rancher, landowner and Republican Party Stalwart.
She was a private person who didn’t boast about her groundbreaking accomplishments as a woman, but they were plenty.
‘Montana has never been too big on race or gender,’ she told writer John Byorth for a 2008 profile in Big Sky Journal. ‘I never felt that doors were closed or that there was a gender gap. You would have thought I felt it, but it seemed the other way. Look at Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in the world to be elected to a national legislative body. It didn’t seem unusual to the Montanans.’
Replogle, a distinguished attorney in her own right, married Wellington Rankin, a larger than life figure, one of the state’s most renowned lawyer[s] and a leading Republican. From that union she gained Jeanette [sic] Rankin as a sister in law.
After Rankin’s death, she married Jack Galt, a veteran ranch manager who became a prominent legislator. He brought seven children into the marriage.
In 1946, Louise Replogle received her law degree from what’s now the University of Montana where she was president of the Associated Women Students.
That same year, at age 23, she returned home to Lewistown and defeated two men in the primary and one in the general election to become Fergus County attorney. She was the third woman in U.S. history to be chosen as a prosecutor.
Replogle soon made national news with her raid of slot machines in the Joyland Club in 1947.
Despite laws on the book[s] banning slot machines in Montana, the Legislature in 1945 had carved out a loophole for nonprofit religious, charitable, fraternal and social clubs.
Soon hundreds of new nonprofit clubs sprouted up. Many taverns roped off parts of their floor space to create private clubs. Memberships often sold for a quarter.
From her research, Replogle concluded that slot machines amounted to mechanical lotteries, which were then illegal under the state constitution.
She and a deputy sheriff raided the Joyland Club and seized five slot machines, drawing extensive state and national press coverage. Some stories compared her to Carrie Nation, the woman who opposed alcohol before Prohibition and attacked taverns with a hatchet. Cartoons showed Replogle smashing a slot machine with a sledgehammer.
‘I wasn’t so much against gambling, but I thought we had a duty there,’ Replogle told me years ago. ‘I was a young and green county attorney. I didn’t realize everyone had illegal gambling.’
In 1950, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the Joyland Club decision, which resulted in a statewide ban of slot machines.
Replogle was a rising star in state and national Republican circles. In 1949, she was co-chairman of the National Young Republicans, speaking at dozens of events across the country. Mademoiselle magazine honored her as one of its 10 Young Women of the Year nationally in 1949 for her political and legal accomplishments.
She left the county attorney’s post in 1951 to join Wellington Rankin’s law firm in Helena. Rankin had won one court case against her as county attorney. She prevailed against him in another when he represented a prominent man accused of child molestation, although the Montana Supreme Court later overturned the conviction.
Replogle unsuccessfully sued the federal government seeking more than the $225 burial allowances for the families of each of the 13 firefighters, including 12 smokejumpers, killed in the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire, her niece, Candace Johnson Kruger, of Columbia Falls, recalled.
‘She was really a person ahead of her time,’ Johnson said. ‘She worked hard for causes that she believed in.’
In 1956, Rankin and Replogle married, despite an age difference of nearly 40 years.
‘He didn’t seem that much older,’ she told Byorth for Big Sky Journal. ‘We had all the same interests, and he seemed much younger.’
Rankin was largest private landowner in Montana, with more than 1 million deeded and leased acres of land and 27,000 cattle at his operation’s peak, the article said.
Much of Louise Rankin’s law practice focused on the ranching operation’s legal issues such as water and grazing rights. Already an experience horsewoman, she loved riding on the ranch, family members said.
For decades, Wellington Rankin was republican national committeeman for Montana, a friend of presidents and a frequent but mostly unsuccessful candidate for office. However, he had helped manage Jeannette Rankin’s two winning campaigns for Congress.
When Wellington Rankin died in 1966, Louise Rankin inherited ranches mainly in seven counties, Broadwater, Meagher, Park, Garfield, Rosebud, Phillips and Valley counties, along with 66 employees and the cattle on the ranches, the Great Falls Tribune reported then. She also inherited controlling interests in the Placer and Helena hotels in Helena and some oil wells.
A year later, Rankin married Galt, an experienced ranch manager and cattle buyer from Utica who brought strong managerial skills to the ranching operation.
About 20 years earlier, Galt had asked her to dance once at an event. She agreed, but told him the next dance was taken.
‘As Galt waited, some men playing cards in the back poked fun at him, telling him that he didn’t have a chance with the most popular woman in Montana,’ Byorth wrote in Big Sky Journal. ‘The men, Galt figured, were right, and he left without saying goodbye.’
When they bumped into each other nearly two decades later, she reminded Galt of the incident. He then asked her on a date, and they later married.
Galt also was Republican national committeeman for the state (a post now held by his son, Errol), and he served in [the] Legislature for 16 years and was Senate president in 1989.
The Galts were among the earliest supporters of Ronald Reagan for president. They backed him against fellow Republicans Richard Nixon in 1968 and sitting President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Those attempts failed, but the Galts helped lead Reagan’s Montana efforts four years later when he was elected president. She chaired Reagan’s Montana campaign and headed the state delegation at [the] Republican National Convention, casting Montana’s vote that put Reagan over the top for the nomination.
Jack Galt died in 2007, and Louise Galt continued to live on the 71 Ranch near Martinsdale and at the family home in Helena. She remained a fixture at local and state Republican meetings.
‘She was a real stateswoman,’ former Gov. Tim Babcock said. ‘I’ve know here [sic] ever since I got involved in political activity. She was one of the stalwarts of Republican women in the state. She always financially supported candidates and was just a lady for good government.'”
25 December 1949 — Omaha World-Herald — “1949 Portia Beats Dad; Woman Attorney Young, Pretty, Too”
“Louise Replogle believed to be the only woman county attorney in America, is 26 and pretty — but she beats her father.
As Prosecuting Attorney in Lewistown, Mont., she’s thoroughly whipped her lawyer dad in two cases in the past year.
‘It’s unforgivable,’ she said today. ‘Dad paid for my law education, helps me electioneer for my post, inspires my work — and then I do these things. It’s all in the line of duty, of course.
‘But we don’t discuss it at home.’
The tall, brunette came to New York this week to accept Mademoiselle Magazine’s award as one of the 1949’s ‘Young Women of the Year.’
She was obviously more baffled by her new-found fame than she is by a tough felony case.
‘What can I tell you about myself?’ she asked. ‘I’m just an ordinary lawyer who maybe talks more quietly than the male species do.’
That, undoubtedly, is a clue to her success over other Lewistown lawyers. She admits it.
‘I blew up,’ she says, ‘in my first case against my father when, as the defense lawyer, he wouldn’t let me put the defendant on the stand. I lost the case.’
‘Since then, I’ve kept my voice as calm as possible and let father do the bellowing and shouting. And I’ve won.’
Her father is ‘pretty tough’ on her in the courtroom, Replogle says,’because he thinks women should stay out of law. He thought that ever since I told him I was going to follow in his footsteps.’
She waited till she was 10 to pop the news that she was going to be a lawyer. Mr. Replogle grinned and told his friends, who grinned and said ‘Cute.’
‘But I showed them,’ says Replogle. ‘I went to law school, graduated, and wasted no time in getting a job.’
Even before she had her University of Montana LL.B. degree in hand, she filed to run for County Attorney in Lewistown and, using ‘Montana born, Montana raised and Montana educated’ as her mark of distinction — along with her beauty — she won the election.
Today she believes ‘A lot of people voted for me because of the novelty of a woman prosecutor. Many of them thought I wouldn’t be elected, and wanted me to have a decent showing. But whatever it was, the vote split in my favor.’
She’s just been elected to a second term, which proves the ‘novelty’ was a successful one.”
25 May 1949 — Richmond Times Dispatch — “Two Gun Gal Draws a Bead on Presidency”
“O. Louise Replogle, a two-gun gal from the wild and wooly West, took a bead on the White House today and allowed as how she might aim to take it over as the first woman President around about 1980.
Miss Replogle figures she has a running start on almost any other potential candidate — male or female — for commander-in-chief 31 years from now.
And pardner, she’ll draw on the first hombre who challenges her.
At the age of 25, the tall, pretty girl is serving her second term as county attorney of Fergus County, Mont.
She’s a dead shot with an old-fashion frontier muzzle loading rifle and an expert at rounding up cattle while riding horseback.
Miss Replogle was elected to the country attorney post at the tender age of 23, fresh out of the Montana State University law school. She used her feminine wiles for the good of the Republican party while her father, a devout Democrat, sat at home in Lewistown and fumed furiously.
Bert Replogle thought he was getting even with his turncoat daughter when, as defense attorney in her first case, he gave her a sound legal spanking. But that didn’t stop her. She continued to live at home peacefully with the family and last year she was reelected with hardly any competition at all. The Democrats didn’t even nominate anyone to run against the crusading ‘favorite daughter’ of the bitterroot State. Now she’s thinking about plucking off juicier political plums in future elections.
Miss Replogle stopped off in New York on her way home from a New York State Young Republican meeting at South Fallsburg, N. H. As assistant secretary of the National Young Republican’s Club, she gave the delegates a pep talk that convinced anyone within shouting distance that Opal Louise Replogle was in the business of politics to stay.
When she gets back home, Miss Replogle is going to conduct a big crusade to drive slot machines out of Fergus County, and she’ll take her case to the Supreme Court if she has to. She said the 7,500 people in Lewistown are beginning to sit up and take notice of her work, instead of laughing and saying they could remember when Opal Louise was a chubby little girl in pigtails.
‘The men have been very nice to me,’ she said, ‘although they’re probably hoping I’ll marry and settle down in the kitchen soon. The older lawyers have given me help when I needed it, and they don’t seem to object to having a woman running the legal end of the county.
‘I guess they remember the day I won the Davey Crockett shooting match with an antique rifle and hardly any practice. Some people have been calling me “One-Shot” Replogle ever since. I do hope they were referring to my shooting and not to my success in politics.'”
7 September 1923
Albert Barton Replogle and Edith Kyle
four sisters and one brother
- LL.B., University of Montana School of Law 1946
- Board of Editors, Montana Law Review
Admitted to Practice:
- Fergus County Attorney
- Associate, Rankin, Acher Firm
- Partner, Galt and Swanberg
High Profile Case:
State v. Joyland Club, 124 Mont. 122, 220 P.2d 988 (1950)
- Co-Chairman of National Young Republicans
- Chair, Reagan’s Montana campaign
- Member, Board of Visitors, University of Montana School of Law
- Member, Montana Board of Regents
- Carroll College Board
- Board of Trustees, Salvation Army
- Wellington Rankin in 1956
- Jack Galt on 22 July 1967
21 November 2013
Link to Oral History interview with Louise Replogle Rankin Galt
John Byorth interviewed Ms. Galt on 25 January 2008.
[more to come]
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