10 December 1895 — Atlanta Constitution
“Entertaining History of the Marvelous Achievements of One Woman.
Her Triumphs at the Bar; Acquired a Big Practice —
Appointed Assistant Attorney General Wedded to the Attorney General”
The census of the country records 110 women lawyers. The most remarkable and successful of this number — one of the most remarkable women in the world — is . . . Mrs. Ella Knowles Haskell, assistant attorney general of the state of Montana and the most successful lawyer in the state.
Mrs. Haskell is still a young woman, but her life history has been crowded full of activity, dramatic incident, success, adventure, politics, and romance. The story of her life reads with the fascination of a romance. . . .
Mrs. Haskell is a modest-mannered, quiet, womanly woman of medium height. She is not of the aggressive, assertive type that one would naturally expect to find in the successful feminine lawyer. She is mild, gentle womanly, though full of determination, courage and energy. Her career as a lawyer, as well as her earlier history, proves her fearlessness and determination.
Less than thirty-five years old, she has won greater success at the bar than 10 percent of the lawyers of her age who have been in the practice fifteen years. She has been engaged in practice less than six years, and she commenced and fought her way against the odds of prejudice, lack of acquaintance and lack of sympathy. The people were not disposed to give her a sympathetic hearing, but the remarkable fact stands out that wherever she has been heard she has conquered.
Mrs. Haskell is a New Hampshire girl. She was Miss Ella Knowles and when a young girl she exhibited marked genius. She wanted a college education, but her father opposed the idea. She was determined however, and through her own efforts she went through Bates college at Lewiston, Me., and was graduated. Her father greatly disapproved of her course, and she went west to teach school. She had heard wonderful stories of the great state of Montana and went there. She taught school very successfully for a time, but in 1890 she drifted into the practice of law. She was admitted to the practice at Helena. At about the time she was admitted quite a number of young men entered the practice. Of that number only one is now resident of Montana, and he is not in the practice of law, but is a clerk in a bank.
Miss Knowles was alone in the great state of Montana, but she found friends. Her pluck and her energy won her the way to the hearts of the people by whom she was immediately surrounded. She had a good practice almost from the start. Her friends put their lawsuits in her hands, trusting implicitly to her ability and capacity to handle them. She has had wonderful success in the management of cases, having won a large percentage of those she has handled. She has tried all sorts of cases, both civil and criminal, . . .
Mrs. Haskell tells in the most interesting manner of her nomination and race for attorney general of the state of Montana.
‘It was a total surprise to me,’ said she. ‘I was in my office in the Masonic building in Helena one day when I received a telegram signed by three names that I had never heard before. The telegram was dated Butte, Mont., and asked me if I would accept the nomination of the populist party for attorney general of the state.
‘I read the thing over and over again in surprise and wonder. I did not know the men whose names were signed to the telegram. I didn’t know what a populist was. I had never heard of the populist party. I didn’t know a thing about politics. All I knew was about the law and school teaching. I was on very friendly terms with all the deputies around the courthouse, and it occurred to me that they were trying to play a practical joke on me. The telegram remained around my office for several hours without being answered. Finally, an attorney who had an office in the same building happened in and I showed him the telegram. I told him I thought I was being joked. “Not at all,” said he. “That telegram is genuine. That convention is in session. Wire them and say yes.”
‘I took his advice. The next morning I received a telegram saying that I had been unanimously nominated. I wired my acceptance, it taking me quite a time to frame a telegram. I hardly knew what to say in response to a notification of a political nomination. When I came down town next morning I was stopped at every corner by democrats and republicans who ridiculed the idea of my accepting the nomination and who tried hard to get me to withdraw. They laughed at me. I made up my mind to run and run to the very best of my ability. I entered the race with all the energy of my nature.
‘I made sixty speeches in the state. I never heard a disrespectful word spoken to me during the time I was canvassing the state. I spoke to miners as well as merchants and professional men. I want to say that more chivalrous men do not exist than the hard working miners and ranchmen of my state. I want to pay tribute to them. I did my best in the campaign, and altogether it wasn’t too bad.’
Miss Knowles came marvelously near being elected. So close was the issue of the election that it required three weeks to settle the question, and at last it was announced that Mr. Haskell, the bachelor attorney general, had been re-elected by a narrow margin of votes.
Miss Knowles accepted the decision of the ballots with philosophical resignation and went back to her lucrative practice all the better known for the experience which she had gained. A few weeks later she was notified by letter that she had been appointed assistant attorney general of the state. The appointment, coming unsolicited, was a great surprise to her. However, she accepted and has performed the duties of her office since doing so.
Her appointment had a sequel in a delightful romance, which, related in Mrs. Haskell’s naive way, is exceedingly interesting. While performing the prosaic duties of assistant attorney general Miss Knowles was thrown in a most constant contact with Attorney General Haskell. The two former opponents became the warmest of friends and after becoming friends, lovers.
They were married last May, the event attracting the attention of the entire state. They were married in California, whither Miss Knowles had gone to recover from a very severe accident which befell her in Butte City, a little over a year ago, and which came near injuring her fatally. She has not entirely recovered from the results of the accident — being thrown from a hack.
‘We could not well have married in the state,’ said Mrs. Haskell, speaking of her marriage yesterday. ‘We had so many friends in the state that we would not have known when to stop issuing invitations. We were married in May, and since June I have been actively engaged at work.’
Mrs. Haskell has no desire for further political promotion. She says she can make more money in the practice of law. In one case she received a cash fee of $10,000, and in other cases she received large mining properties, the value of which she does not know. She has done much valuable practice in the state. She is now the best known woman in the state. She has the friendship of all classes, and has had important cases for some of the largest interests in the state.
She tells an interesting story illustrating the manner in which she holds the friendship of the cowboys of the state. While engaged in a big cattle case between two great ranchers she was thrown in contact with a great many of them.
‘In their rough way they wanted to be nice to me,’ said she, ‘and show their appreciation, yet they didn’t know what to say. Finally, one of them came up and said in his honest fashion, “Say, won’t you come an’ have a drink?” Now I didn’t want to offend the honest fellows. They didn’t know any better, and were offering me the highest form of hospitality they knew. I thought I could compromise, and said “I don’t drink, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. There’s a soda fountain down there in the middle of the block and we’ll go down and have some soda.” “Good,” shouted the crowd, and we went down and I had to drink with the lot of them. During the trial of the case there came a sort of lull in the proceedings, and one of the cowboys leaned over and said to his companion in a loud whisper, audible all over the courtroom, ‘Say, Bill, I’d like to lasso that gal.’ It brought down the house.””
For more on Ella Knowles, https://mtwomenlawyers.org/1889-2/ella-knowles-haskell/