BILLINGS — Women’s Equality Day is this Wednesday, August 26th and it is the official 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s adoption into the Constitution.
This amendment of course granted woman the right to vote and one of its fiercest advocates was from right here in Billings. Her name was Hazel Hunkins and this summer she is in not one, but two different exhibits at the Western Heritage Center.
"Hazel Hunkins is a Billings native," says Lauren Hunley, a Community Historian at the Western Heritage Center. "She graduated Billings High School in 1908 and after being denied employment because of her gender, she ends up joining the National Women’s Party and becoming Alice Paul’s right had woman."
Alice Paul was a major leader in the fight for Women’s Voting Rights and Hazel was with her through much of the struggle. And struggle it was. Many forget that woman were not granted the right to vote, they fought for it; marching, holding rallies and protesting.
"Hazel was a member of the Silent Sentinels. Which was the very first group to picket the White House... a lot of the protests and things we see today, they have their roots with Hazel and the other women of the National Women’s Party. And all they did was stand in front of the White House with their banners. ‘Mr. President how long must women wait for liberty?' They make themselves impossible to ignore. Wilson can not step outside of the White House without seeing the Silent Sentinels outside on his front lawn."
Their hard work and protesting paid off. On August 26th, the 19th Amendment was officially adopted into the US Constitution giving woman the right to vote. The local women who help make this milestone happen are currently being featured in the museum.
"The first exhibit we are actually standing in, it’s called Saints and Sinners. And it highlights ten women in regional history who rejected what society expected of them and really created their own boundaries and lived their own life on their terms. The second exhibit is actually only up through the end of August and it is only about Hazel. And we highlight her life and her activities and we really focus in on who she was and why her work is so important."
Along with having both exhibits at the museum being open, on Wednesday staff from the Western Heritage Center plan on laying flowers at Hazel’s grave at Mount-view Cemetery here in Billings. A small gesture of thanks to someone who did so much.
For more information on Hazel and the two exhibits at the Western Heritage Center, log onto https://www.ywhc.org/