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Professor: World War I's legacy mixed in Montana

By Kristen Inbody
via the Great Falls Tribune (MT) web site

The most significant result of World War I: The world as it is now, the good and bad.

A less noted consequence was closing hours for the bars in Butte, said Harry Fritz, a popular and award-winning history professor at the University of Montana, at the February 16 "U to You" lecture at Great Falls College-Montana State University.

Harry Fritz lectureHarry Fritz, University of Montana history professor, describes the consequences of World War I at the February 16 U to You lecture in Great Falls. (Photo: TRIBUNE PHOTO/KRISTEN INBODY)Butte bar owners used to pitch the key to the front door when they opened the bar since the doors would never close in that 24/7 city. That changed, like everything, with the advent of war.

Empires fell. Monarchies ended. Power shifted. Millions died. The lines of another century of conflict were cemented. A flu pandemic.

In Montana, the war has a mixed legacy.

"Montana's economy boomed during the Great War. The homestead era reached its peak. The sex ratio evened out for the first time. Ample rainfall. High commodity prices. Farmers didn't have a better year until the 1970s," Fritz said. "Anaconda couldn't produce copper fast enough ... Butte likes to claim to this day it won the first world war by producing copper."

In Montana, the war doomed the progressive movement that had given the state women's suffrage, workers' compensation, the election of Jeannette Rankin and other reform-minded leaders that held a national profile and Prohibition, "which some people call a reform, but I call it the absolute succession from the civilized world ... though Prohibition had one beneficial aspect in Montana. It resulted in the discovery of Canada." 

Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, represented a state with a huge Irish population, a significant German population and Finns, Fritz said."Rankin was an authentic pacifist, and she represented a sizable anti-war constituency," he said.

She was elected at-large but then the state changed to district elections and she came in second on the Republican primary. The whole move to districts may have been designed to prevent her re-election, Fritz said.

"Many in Montana thought it (entering the war) was a mistake, and there are a number of historians who would second that, but my perspective is Germany was torpedoing American ships and killing Americans so what were we supposed to do?" Fritz said.

Read the entire article on the Great Falls Tribune web site:

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