Hollis Gay Connors, admitted to the Montana Bar in 1952, was the second woman in Montana to run for Associate Justice on the Montana Supreme Court. Jessie Roscow was the first; she lost in the primary election in 1944.
3 April 1962 — Daily Inter Lake — “Helena Woman to File for Supreme Court”
“Hollis Gay Connors, Helena lawyer, announced Monday she would attempt to become the first woman to serve on Montana’s Supreme Court.
Mrs. Connors, 50, said she would file for the position No. 2 on the high court, the bench now held by Associate justice Stanley M. Doyle.
Records indicated Mrs. Connors would be the second woman in Montana history to run for the Supreme Court. The first was Jessie Roscoe [sic], who was eliminated in the 1944 primary election. . . .
Mrs. Connors said she planned to file her nominating papers April 16. She said she would seek the position for two reasons:
- ‘Women should more actively participate in governmental affairs.’
- ‘I feel the courts of the State of Montana belong to the people. They are there for the preservation of the personal and property rights of the people, and they must be preserved.’
Mrs. Connors added, ‘If elected to this office, I would bring to the position a deep sense of responsibility, complete honesty and humility for the trust imposed by the people of the State of Montana.’
Mrs. Connors was born in Fairfax county, Minn., and attended grade and high schools in Minnesota. She received her law degree in 1949 from Northwestern College of Law in Portland, Ore. She became a permanent resident of Montana in 1951 and was admitted to the Montana bar in October 1952.
She has been associated in private law practice since 1959 with the Helena firm of Skedd, Harris and Massman. Before that, she was in the insurance business in Helena. She is the wife of Gene Connors of Townsend.
Mrs. Connors said as far as she had been able to determine only three states now have women justices on their Supreme Courts. They are Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii.
‘I don’t even mind telling you how old I am,’ Mrs. Connors told a newsman. ‘I was born in February 1912. I always said I was going to run for this office when I was 50 years old, and I meant it.'”
A news article from the Montana Standard, published on 18 April 1962, reported additionally that:
“The blonde lawyer will be seeking the Supreme Court seat . . . . Doyle has announced he will seek re-election. Gordon Bennett, former assistant attorney general and more recently a lawyer in Washington, D.C., has also announced he will seek the office.”
Ms. Connors lost to Justice Doyle and Mr. Bennett who advanced to the general election. Justice Stanley M. Doyle, the incumbent, prevailed in the general election.
In 1967, J. R. Wine, Jr., Director of Montana Legal Services, appointed Hollis Gay Connors deputy director of the legal services program. She worked with the legal services program from 1967 through 1969.
Hollis Gay Connors ran, as the Republican candidate, for State Treasurer in 1972.
An article in the Billings Gazette, 24 May 1972, reported that Ms. Connors listed her net worth as $27,280, made up of her home in Townsend, $20,000; her automobile, $5,700; a life insurance policy, $7,000; personal property, $2,500; and savings of $3,000. Her liabilities included a home mortgage of $5,800; personal note $3,120, and loans on life insurance of $2,000.
She “won election to the single-term state treasurer’s office over Democratic John J. McLaughlin. She tallied 89,705 votes from 662 precincts compared with McLaughlin’s 78,340.” Havre Daily News, 8 November 1972.
15 April 1973 — Independent Record — “State Treasurer Says She’s Liberated”
“‘I consider myself to be a liberated woman,’ says Hollis Gay Connors, Montana’s treasurer.
With that self-image it’s not surprising to find that the women’s liberation movement doesn’t hold any great attraction for the 61-year-old attorney. But neither is she opposed to what she feels should be its basic aim — to treat an individual as an individual.
Ms. Connors’ views on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) were not solicited during the emotional legislative battle over ratification of the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution although she is one of only two women in major state elective offices.
She views the oversight with more detached amusement than hurt feelings after a lifetime spend working in fields predominantly occupied by males — law, politics and insurance.
‘I don’t think ERA will add much to women’s rights,’ she said, ‘and it may take away some of their favored property rights.’
Still, if asked, she would have urged the legislature to ratify the women’s equal rights provision in the supreme law.
‘The voters of Montana have already put this through in their new constitution,’ Ms. Connors said. ‘So I don’t understand why the legislature didn’t go along with it in the federal constitution if they were aware of the state constitution.’
She was referring to a new section added to the Montana Bill of Rights guaranteeing nondiscrimination on account of sex.
That provision was not enough for the treasurer to support the new state charter. She voted against ratification as did a big majority of her fellow townspeople in Townsend, 30 miles southeast of Helena. It’s the county seat of Broadwater County, rural, mostly conservative and Republican.
Her feeling is that archaic provisions of the old document could have been amended. ‘But the new one can be amended too,’ she said. Ms. Connors said with ratification she ‘has no strong opinions’ one way or the other about the new constitution.
She has lived the past 12 years in Townsend with her husband, a funeral director, and practiced law there and in capital city. The treasurer has continued practicing law since she began her official state duties Jan. 1.
‘I have found nothing in the law that prevents me from keeping up my law practice,’ she said. ‘And I haven’t found any conflict of interest.’ The treasurer is paid $15,000 a year.
Ms. Connors is not the first woman treasurer in the state’s history but she well may be the last of either sex.
The new constitution eliminated the treasurer as a constitutional officer, leaving it up to the legislature to determine whether the position shall be continued in law or abolished and its remaining functions transferred to other departments.
The Republican thinks that eliminating the office would be a big mistake.
‘It should be separate and probably elective to preserve the system of checks and balances,’ she said.
Self-interest is not involved. By law the treasurer cannot succeed herself. A grandfather clause protects all incumbent office holders when the new constitution goes into effect.
The incumbent feels it is common sense to have an independent officer handling the money between those agencies collecting it and those spending it.
In recent years the office has been stripped of many of its functions which were transferred to the state controller, Department of Administration and Board of Investments.
But it remains the custodian of the state’s securities and money. The daily cash flow is erratic but on the average the office handles $5 million to $6 million daily.
‘This is the hub of government,’ Ms. Connors smiles. ‘This is where the money is.’
The 1972 Legislature passed a resolution asking the Legislative Council to study the office of treasurer and make recommendations so that some action can be taken before the 1976 election.
The lawmakers didn’t bother to ask the incumbent for any advice or benefit of experience. Ms. Connors said she has a few ideas about the office and toyed with the idea of making some recommendations.
‘But it would be a labor of love,’ she said, ‘because under the circumstances (Democratic control of the legislature), I don’t think they’d give much consideration to it.’
One idea, she said, is to turn the office into a state bank such as has been done in North Dakota. ‘I’m not sure exactly how they name the director,’ she added.
Ms. Connors pointed out the functions of her office are the same as a bank — to take in money and to pay it out.
The treasurer presides over her department from a modest office in the extreme southwest corner of the Capitol behind locked doors, buzzers and alarm systems.
The physical isolation is matched by political isolation. As one of only three Republican elected state officials, she is not in the mainstream of the Democratic state executive branch.
Ms. Connors’ successful campaign for treasurer was not the first time she has run for state office. In 1962 she finished a respectable third in a six-way nonpartisan primary for associate justice of the state supreme court. She was the only woman candidate.
The treasurer said she was never aware of any prejudice or discrimination in her campaigning because she was a woman. If anything she feels it is an asset.
‘The voters are a little more courteous,’ she explains, ‘although they expect as much from you.’
As an equal opportunity employer, the treasurer’s staff consists of four men and five women. ‘I like men,’ she laughs, ‘I like people.’
‘I realize there is discrimination against women,’ Ms. Connors said. ‘I’m in favor of equal opportunity — equal pay for equal effort.’
But she said she is ‘not gung-ho’ about some extremes of the women’s liberation movement. ‘Like changing he to she and his to hers in the statutes would make no difference,’ the lady lawyer said.
Her personal struggle has been against economics, not discrimination.
Ms. Connors, a native of Minnesota, came to Montana as a child. Her father was a merchant in Bozeman and Moore. At the age of 18 she ventured into the depression age of 1930 as a cashier-clerk for a major insurance company at $16.50 per week and was glad to have the job.
Work as a life underwriter and legal secretary and stenographer followed until, in 1944-45, she began studying law at the Northwest College of Law, Portland, Ore.
Ms. Connors graduated in 1949 and was admitted to Montana practice in 1952 after passing the bar exam and an equivalency exam for the bachelor’s degree she didn’t have.
If there was any discrimination because of her sex along the way, ‘I wasn’t aware of it.’
But one aspect of the feminine revolution has caught her fancy. She likes the designation, ‘Ms.’
‘It’s a little silly but that’s what they’ve picked,’ she said. ‘It does make one an individual.'”