A state senator said it is extra special the Montana Constitution is getting the attention from the public during its 50th anniversary celebration as the document is facing challenges.
There are 20 pieces now before the supreme court around constitutionality and “never before in our history have we had a sitting legislator refer to the constitution as a ‘socialist rag,’ that needs to be tossed out,’’ she said. “I will tell you that in my belief the Constitution is in serious danger of perhaps even being repealed.”
Sands spoke Thursday at the Montana Historical Society and gave the third of four lectures during May on the 1972 Constitutional Convention, also known as ConCon.
She said it is up to all to protect and defend the Constitution, but earlier in her speech referenced her concerns that the document was under some scrutiny.
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In late 2021, GOP state Rep. Derek Skees said in late 2021 the Constitution's right of privacy clause gave state courts a legal basis for blocking new abortion restrictions and calling the document a “socialist rag” that should be replaced.
Sands, a Democrat from Missoula, did not attend the 1972 convention, but said she knew 11 of the 19 female delegates. Overall, 100 delegates served at the convention. None were Native American.
She said the number of female delegates was quite stunning for its time.
She said the convention did not stand alone, but grew out of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a tremendous time for social change and movements for social justice and women were demanding larger leadership roles in all aspects of society. Sands offered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Organization for Women being founded in 1967 and the Clean Air Act and Environmental Protection Agency both coming about in 1970 as some examples.
She said the women of the Con Con came out of that “rich, cultural stew” and were not in it for personal gain, which she added she could not say about some of the men elected as delegates.
She said the middle class also wanted to see change, saying they wanted to modernize government, wanted more transparency and wanted to reduce corruption in government.
Sands said the changing times really influenced those 19 women to run as delegates. The women had varying backgrounds and ranged in age from 24-73, which was slightly younger than all the male delegates.
One reason that women were successful in getting on as delegates was that no already elected to office could run, Sands said.
“Because of that it created a social space there that wasn’t already occupied by the political elites, etc.” she said. “That may be one reason why these women had a better chance and other newcomers – they are not beholden to the traditional parties or political powers.”
She said a majority of the female delegates had college degrees, some advanced. Through the various organizations they were members of, many of the women knew each other for a decade or more.
The League of Women Voters played a critical role in calling for the convention, 11 of their members being elected delegates and in getting the constitution ratified, Sands said.
Bathrooms became something of a battleground as the male delegates put up a sign at the closest bathroom, which was not out in public space, forcing the women to walk out into the public space, where lobbyists were to find a bathroom.
She said there were other dynamics, one female delegate said she did not like being patted on the shoulder and called “kiddo.”
“Yes, the women delegates were aware that they had to really had to prove themselves in this environment but they really had the support of each other and I think that was important to being able to claim that space, rightfully so, to declare that space as equals and to demand the respect they were owed,” Sands said.
Delegate Dorothy Eck said the women were not intimidated at all, and had come to the convention better prepared on the issues than the men, Sands said.
Delegate Arlyne Reichert said the women were among the smartest delegates and held their own.
Delegate Mae Nan Ellingson, the youngest delegate, was respected for her thorough research and thoughtful opinions.
The female delegates were Betty Babcock, Grace Bates, Virginia Blend, Jean Bowman, Daphne Bugbee (Jones), Edith Van Buskirk, Marjorie Cain, Louise Cross, Dorothy Eck and Marian Erdmann.
Other delegates were Rachell Mansfield, Veronica O’Sullivan, Katie Payne, Catherine Pemberton, Arlyne Reichert, Mae Nan Robinson (Ellingson), Lynn Sparks, Lucile Speer and Margaret Warden.
"Give these amazing women a round of applause, we owe them so much," Sands said. later adding "Praise the Lord and protect the Constitution."
The May 26 program “Before and After the Montana Constitution of 1972” is a panel discussion with Bob Brown and Dorothy Bradley, moderated by Evan Barrett. It is at 4:30 p.m. People can attend at the Montana Historical Society in Helena or view on the MTHS YouTube Channel. Story was updated to correct last name of Lucile Speer.