Turn-of-the-century residents in rural areas of the American West struggled to survive without publicly provided health infrastructure. From 1927 to 1949, Catherine Brodhead operated the Brodhead Maternity Home in Fairview, Montana. Her work exemplified the significance of women like her who ran these important community institutions.
Midwife and advocate Dolly Browder played a central role in organizing midwives for legitimacy before the Montana legislature in 1989. After an intense effort, lawmakers changed state statute to allow qualified Montana midwives to practice and directed that a licensing process be put in place during the 1991 legislative session. Subsequently, midwives returned to the legislature to create the infrastructure necessary to license homebirth midwives across the state.
Mary Kassmeier worked as a professional midwife in and around Fort Benton, Montana, in the early 1900s.
Midwives resided in multitudes of Montana communities, and while they may be absent from history books and museum exhibits, evidence of their work remains in historical society records and county courthouses, as well as the minds and memories of those they served. Mary Kassmeier (1881-1964) helped pregnant women in communities along the Upper Missouri, establishing a noteworthy practice by birthing infants on her own as well as assisting area physicians and delivering in the local hospital.
Pat Oriet, raised in Havre, Montana, chose to attend nursing school in the 1950s, one of few options available to women at the time. After the birth of her five children, she began working at Montana State University’s Student Health in Bozeman in 1967.
In the early 1970s, student health clinics across the United States faced a shifting cultural reality as the impacts of the sexual revolution spread to college campuses. Along with her student health colleagues, Oriet responded to the growing need for services by initiating a women’s health program.