Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type

Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Gillian Glaes

Second Advisor

Robert Swartout

Third Advisor

Doreen Kutufam

Abstract

The 1935 earthquakes that struck Helena, Montana, pose a great case study to examine this theory. The series of quakes began in early October of 1935 and continued into the following spring. During this period, women were actively creating roles for themselves that were independent of those created by the community’s male population. Women, both in the home and in the workforce, were anything but “damsels in distress.” At places such as Saint Joseph’s Orphanage, the Catholic Sisters of Charity protected their young dependents during the months of quakes and saw to the reconstruction of the orphanage after the earth had calmed. Female teachers pushed to get students back to classes, even though most ofthe school buildings were severely damaged. Women such as these helped reestablish a sense of order in Montana’s capital city after months of instability. In order to understand the experiences and contributions of women during this trying time, it is important to look at conditions in and out of the home during the decade leading up to the quake. This study will examine the roles that geographic location, class, and occupation played on women’s lives in the early 1930s and what this would mean when the earthquakes struck. Brief histories on the roles of prostitutes, nurses, nuns, and homemakers in Helena will help give background to the stories of these women during the quakes. This study will also explore the reaction of Helena’s women to the earthquakes and how those responses were both similar and different to the reaction of men. During the events themselves and in the months that followed, the two genders diverged in the ways which they handled the disaster. Women found their roles in care-taking and promoting stability within the community, while men involved themselves in rebuilding houses and businesses. In this sense, males tended to the physical reconstruction of Helena, while women looked more toward the emotional and spiritual reconstruction of the town. By studying the experiences of women during the Helena earthquakes and the responsibilities they took on during reconstruction, one may learn more about the changing dynamics of women’s history during natural disasters.

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