6 September — The Missoulian — “Dubious Consent”
“In an admirable if somewhat reluctant demonstration of advanced thinking the University of Montana Law School admitted its first woman student in 1912, two years before the adoption of the amendment to the Montana Constitution giving women the vote.
Bernice Selfridge (now Mrs. Bernice Selfridge Forbes) had not completed her pre-legal work and so was not included in the 1912 registration of 21 students, but she was allowed to take two law classes. It is recorded that this concession was made ‘with the dubious consent of the law faculty.’ Miss Selfridge, incidentally, was a member of the Campus Equal Suffrage Club.
By 1915-16 there were four women enrolled, and for 40 years thereafter — until the fall of 1957 — there were only two years in which no women were registered.
The Law School has graduated 28 women, including such pioneers of their sex as Geraldine O’Hara Grant, ’26 (now Mrs. Geraldine O’Hara MacDonald), Hamilton city attorney from 1929-1934, and Opal Louise Replogle, ’46 (now Mrs. Wellington D. Rankin), Fergus County attorney in 1947. Mrs. Rankin is thought to be the first woman to hold the office of county attorney in Montana. [Two women served earlier as county attorneys in Montana — Emily E. Sloan and Frances Elge.]
Six of the 28 women married Law School alumni and three of these are practicing law in partnership with their husbands.
A further letting down of the barristers’ bars came in 1946. That year the Law School Association voted to admit the five women then enrolled to that male sanctum sanctorum, the association’s smoker.
Another woman, Miss Charlotte Russel, figures prominently in the annals of the Law School. Miss Russel, known to generations of law students as ‘the chief,’ served as law librarian from 1926 until her retirement in 1951. After Miss Russel died in 1957, many former students joined her sister in establishing a Charlotte Russel Memorial Fund to help deserving law freshman.”