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By 1900, newspapers reported that Ella Knowles “now bears a national reputation and is a leader in her chosen field of duty.” [others] marked over them,” she said The erased figures corresponded with her client’s claim of five dollars owed. She had won. “The winning of her first case fixed her status as a lawyer,” said a story that appeared around the country. Politics came next, and in 1892 Knowles was nominated by the Populist Party to run for attorney general of Montana, becoming only the second woman in U.S. history to be nominated for that office. Again, she was laughed at. Again, she gave it her best — “to run, and run to the very best of my ability. I entered the race with all the energy of my nature.” Knowles gave 60 speeches on the campaign trail, using her Bates rhetorical skills to advantage with rousing, crowd-pleasing speeches that earned her the nickname “Portia of the People’s Party,” after Shakespeare’s heroine lawyer. The choice was simple, she liked to tell audiences. You can “degrade woman, cripple her faculties” and “hamper her intellectual growth” and thus have a “degraded, crippled, or enslaved people.” Or, you can “elevate woman” and “give her full freedom to use the faculties God has given her...an act of simple justice” and create citizens who are “strong and self-reliant, intellectual, and valiant.” Her Republican opponent in the race, the incumbent Henri Haskell, won the election — probably, it is said, because women couldn’t vote. Knowles finished third behind Haskell and the Democratic candidate, though her 11,465 votes surpassed the 7,794 votes received by the Populist candidate for governor. Impressed by her skills, Haskell appointed her as an assistant attorney general, which made her one of the highest-ranking government officials in

COLLECTION OF KENNON BAIRD

Below, Helena, Mont., circa 1908

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the country. As an assistant AG, Knowles traveled to Washington, D.C., to argue Montana’s interests in a federal case involving $200,000 worth of contested lands. That made her the first woman to represent a state before the federal government. She won, of course. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and in May 1895, Knowles, then 35, married Haskell, then 52. A native Mainer with Bates connections, Haskell’s great-uncle was Seth Hathorn, of Hathorn Hall fame, and he had attended Bates’ Latin School, a prep school associated with the college. At least in a legal sense, Haskell had always been smitten with Knowles. He strongly supported the legislation that allowed her to become a lawyer in 1889. Three years later, Haskell wrote the legal opinion allowing Knowles to run for AG, after a legal challenge argued that a woman who could not vote was ineligible. Their wedding was at the iconic Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where, it is reported, Knowles was recovering from broken ribs suffered in an accident in Butte when she was thrown from a horse-drawn carriage. But soon, their careers were going in different directions. Knowles was becoming a household American name. Of the 110 female lawyers in the country in 1895, she was deemed “the most remarkable and successful” by The Atlanta Constitution. In fact, the paper said, she was “one of the most remarkable women in the world.” The newspapers were agog over a $10,000 legal fee she had recently received, believed to be the largest fee ever earned by a female lawyer. “Attorney Mrs. Ella Knowles of Montana does not seem to care whether or not she has jumped the hedge-bounded woman’s sphere,” reported The Chanute Daily Tribune in Kansas. “She has just pocketed a $10,000 fee, and can pay her way in whatever sphere may happen to environ her.” Haskell, meanwhile, seemed to want a quieter life after he concluded his term as attorney general in 1897. The couple moved from Helena to his home in Glendive, a city of about 1,000. They divorced in 1901. Knowles moved to Helena, then to Butte, where she “prospered in private practice as one of the state’s leading experts in mining law,” according to Wanton West by Lael Morgan. Indeed, Ella Knowles taking a legal case “always indicated its importance,” said one newspaper. A delegate to the 1902 International Mining Congress convention in Butte, Knowles famously put the convention into chaos by repeatedly stalling the vote on a reorganization plan that she opposed. The San Francisco Call called it “pandemonium let loose.” She convinced attendees that she had enough votes to overturn the plan. In fact, her side lost 103 to 7, all her votes coming from the Montana delegates.

Profile for Bates College

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...