Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Frances C Elge - pioneer Montana Lawyer

Frances Caroline Elge (1906 - 1991) was the daughter of August Elg and Judith Ericsson (see ). The following text is posted with permission from the editor of The Billings Gazette. Illustrations have been added by me. I will have more information about Frances´ family in a later post.

For 50 years, she's fought for women


Of The Gazette Staff

Monday, Nov. 3, 1980 - The Billings Gazette

When the beautiful young daughter of a Swedish immigrant entered the rough and tumble of Capital City politics, the opposition screamed "Rape!”

Frances C. Elge's political career has spanned a half century — from her own campaign wars in Lewis and Clark County, her service as secretary-treasurer for the first congresswoman, to her on-going fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

"Born a feminist," she will be back in Helena if the 1981 Legislature attempts to rescind its ratification of the ERA.

And she will be right at home.

It was in Helena in 1932 when she entered politics.

With the ink still fresh on her license to practice law, she ran for public administrator. Then, as now, it was a minor office, but "Fran" Elge made national headlines when her probate of an old man's estate uncovered a hoard of moldy bills in a tarpaper shack.

"An old man died in the county hospital and $750 in war bonds were found under his mattress," she recalled.

" I went to his home, a tarpaper shack, and a neighbor warned me not to go inside. She said I would find the place crawling with vermin."

Public Administrator Elge padlocked the door, waited for a killing frost and then entered to find $5,000 in an old bread wrapper.

The story made the national news wires and Fran was flooded with letters from heirs and pretenders from across the nation.

She also shared the national limelight as a defense counsel in the famous Baldwin Radio Mail Fraud case. The case involved a stock promotion, the inventor of the Baldwin headset, and a number of salesmen.

Also on the defense team was Sam Ford, a former state Supreme Court Justice and a future Montana governor.

The young lawyer was in good company when she lost after the case went all way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nor was it a disgrace to lose to the man acting as prosecutor: Wellington Duncan Rankin, the state's most noted lawyer, largest individual landowner and perhaps Montana's richest man.

”W.D.” as he was known was young Elge's friend and mentor. His sister, former Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin would become an Elge inspiration and cause.

It was on "W.D's" urging that Fran ran for the county attorney's post in Lewis and Clark County.

That's when the opposition screamed, ”Rape!”

It was clearly a sexist campaign tactic. In those days women were not allowed to sit on Montana juries. "Women were not supposed to be exposed to the lurid testimony of the courtroom," Fran explained.

Her opponent was Undersheriff Walter Nylan, who had been admitted to the bar but had let his license lapse 10 years earlier.

Nylan backers asked, "Do you want to put a woman in the position of prosecuting rapists?"

Before the election, the number of statutory rape cases on the docket began to accumulate, reaching an even dozen before the election.

 Fran countered with a newspaper ad which included the endorsement of a number of the state's most respected lawyers.

"It was plain, I was better qualified," she said. The voters in 1934 agreed.

She clearly was the best looking prosecutor in Montana.

 In two years, she only lost one case.

You guessed it. The defense attorney was the man who lent her lawbooks to begin her career - W.D. Rankin.

"It was a murder case," she recalled. "There had been a highway accident and a woman shot the man who caused it."

At the coronor's inquest, the sheriff reported she had said:

"I shot him and I hope I killed him."

It appeared to be a solid case, but between arrest and trial a few things happened.

First, the sheriff became smitten by his prisoner. The prisoner hired W.D. Rankin and Rankin evolved a couple of new angles.

The sheriff - now a prisoner of love - testified, "She might have said, 'I shot him and I hope I didn't kill him."

In the closing arguments, W.D. told the jury his client was pregnant. "You wouldn't want the baby to be born in prison," he said.

They didn't.

The woman was acquitted.

She never had a baby.

And the sheriff insisted he wasn't the fatter.

But prosecutor Elge had a few angles of her own.

When Kid Jackson, a former boxing champion, sauntered into the "Bucket of Blood" and shot owner Johnny Philips, Fran scrambled to find witnesses.

She found Alice Shahaha, a Yakima Indian, who enterprized as a roller of sheepherders and "lady of easy access," in the mental hospital at Warm Springs.

Alice had been sent there by Billings Police on a trumped-up-charge of drug use, Fran recalled.

The prosecutor knew Alice was straight because months earlier Ms. Shahaha and one of her "sisters of the night" had come to Fran's office to ask for a jail term to kick their narcotics habits. Fran obliged with 30 days for vagrancy and watched the pair gain weight as their earnings began to go for food instead of into their pusher's pocket.

Alice was given the full treatment at a beauty salon before taking the stand. She made an excellent witness.

A second prostitute took the stand wearing fine white gloves. She, too, gave credible testimony. Fran was grateful - grateful that the gloves she had given the witness hid the needle tracks on her hands.

Justice prevailed and Kid Jackson was convicted.

Justice took various forms during her tenure as prosecutor.

When a 70-year-old woman was brought in on a shoplifting charge, the Sheriff asked, "What are you going to do with her?"

Fran replied, "I'm going to give her a talking-to and turn her loose."

The sheriff, who profited from feeding prisoners, left muttering, "She ought to be taught a lesson."

Fran said, "If she hasn't learned by now, she isn't going to."

Juveniles were lectured on Saturdays and their parents made to pay for their vandalism. "I never sent a kid to reform school," she recalled.

In 1939, Fran was lobbying the state Legislature for the passage of the Women's Jury Service Act.

As county attorney, she had faced only all-male juries. ("Of course," she said, "that inurred to my benefit.")

In the course of the battle, she enlisted the aid of FDR's Butte campaign manager, a woman with political savvy and clout who lined up a labor-farmers union coalition in support of the bill.

After the bill had passed and women became peers sitting in judgment, Fran was in the presence of two judges when one turned to the other and said, "Say, Judge Downey at Butte has ladies on his jury.

"And do you know, they are showing 'remarkable judgment."

Fran Elge, considered a lawyer, not a woman, by her collegues, never batted an eye.

In 1940, she became Jeanette Rankin's campaign secretary-treasurer.

Rep. Rankin was the first women to be elected in 1916 to the U.S. House of Representatives. She lost her bid for reelection when she was one of only a few to vote against America's entry into World War I.

The war machines were loose again in Europe when Miss Rankin took the the campaign trail in 1940.

Fran served as ghost writer for pro-Rankin articles that appeared in the Montana Catholic Register. Rankin's opponent was Catholic but in trouble with his constituents over a bad debt at Carroll College.

"We carried the Catholic vote," Fran recalled, "although Jeanette was probably not Catholic."

Congresswoman Rankin returned to Washington. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and she stood alone opposing the U.S.'s entry into World War II. That vote cost her a career.

Fran left Montana for Washington as Jeanette's administrative assistant and later held "a number of very good jobs," including a post on the Admiralty Claims and Litigation staff of the Maritime Administration.

In the nation's capital she met the same sexual discrimination she had first encountered in her race for county attorney.

She used "political connections" to fight discrimination and resented having to do so. "Being better qualified than the men I served with should have been enough."
In 1954, she returned to Montana and served as an administrative law judge for the Department of the Interior in Billings until her retirement in 1970.

She was back in Helena in 1971, lobbying for feminist legislation.

On the list was the repeal of a law that made it illegal for women to work more than 8 hours a day - a law that gave employers a handy excuse not to hire women.

A second law which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color or creed was amended to bar discrimination on the basis of sex as well.

But a third piece of legislation in the package, Fran avoided.

Feminists were being smeared as "a league of baby killers" and Fran refused to dilute her influence by taking a stand on an abortion bill.

A charter member of the Montana Council for the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification, she has testified at every legislative hearing considering adoption or rescission of the ERA.

"And I will continue to testify at every hearing," she vowed.

Anyone attempting to debate the ERA with Fran will find her dipping into her purse for a card that carries the full text of the amendment in three paragraphs.

"That's what it says. And that's all it says," she will tell them.


Friday, May 26, 2017

The mining adventures of Edward Elge

In 1887, two brothers, Edward and Frans Otto Elg, and their sister Maria Sofia, set sail for America. They are children of master blacksmith Johan Elg and his second wife Anna Stina Olsdotter, in Liljendal.

Before emigrating, the brothers have trained as blacksmiths, but the old mills in the area are going out of business. They are destined for Helena, Montana, and accompanied by Frans Otto´s wife Beata and son Ernfrid, along with the mysterious “Alexander Elge”, who I believe is their half brother Per August Elg (see ). Maria Sofia soon marries another Swede, Nels Nelson, and the siblings are later joined by a third brother, Alfred Emil Elg.

This part of Montana had a number of gold and silver mines, but by the time the brothers arrived, the early prospectors had been replaced by large scale, deep quartz mining. Census records show the brothers as mine employees, farmers and running boarding houses. By the time they land in the US, they have all adopted Alexander´s spelling of the family name as “Elge”, and Frans Otto is later known as Francis.

In this article, I will focus on Edward Elge, who took his mining adventures farther afield.

In 1896, Edward marries Christina Olsson. A year later their only child, daughter Eva Christina is born.

The 1900 US Census show the couple running a boarding house in Gardiner, Park, Montana (name spelled Elze in the census record). Gardiner is the only year-round entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The March 12, 1909 Billings Gazette notes that "Edward Elge, of Fromberg is in the city for a few days' visit. Mr Elge is foreman at the Gebo ranch".

By 1910, the Federal census lists Edward as a farmer in Carbon, Montana.

According to the 1920 Federal Census, Edward and Christina Elge were living in Seattle, Washington, in the household of Lena Hendricks, Christina's sister. This census record is dated Jan 2, 1920.

However, by April the same year, Edward is recorded in the census of Fairhaven, Alaska, where he is listed as superintendent of the Independence gold mine, Fairhaven, Seward, Alaska. Christina did not go with him there. .

Note that for this record, Ancestry mistakenly lists Akinik Swanson as his wife. A look at the original document image shows that Akinik was in fact the wife of one of miners (all residents of the mining camp are listed together as one household).

Fairhaven appears to have been a god-forsaken place even by Alaskan standards, out on the north end of the Seward peninsula. The nearest large communities in the 1920s were Nome (to the south) and Kotzebue (to the north), and the nearest small mining camps were Deering and Candle.  According to USGS Bulletin 1246, Metallliferous Lode Deposits of Alaska (1967), the only producing hard rock mine in the Fairhaven District was the Independence Mine, which was located on the Kugruk River about 20 miles east-northeast of Imuruk Lake. The lode, exposed in open cuts for a width of 7-12 feet and traced on the surface for 2,000 feet, was developed by several hundred feet of underground openings from which several hundred tons of ore was probably mined by 1922. By 1924 mining activity had ceased.

Edward´s Alaskan adventure was also short lived.  In July 1922, Edward files an application for registration with the US Consulate at Prince Rupert, B.C. , which states that he has been residing at Alice Arm, B.C. for the purpose of mining, on behalf of himself, since April 1921, a year after the Alaska census. He gives his legal address as Seattle, Wash. and states that he intends to return to the US within two years, or when “I sell mining properties”.  His annual income is stated at USD 900 (how far did that go in 1922?).

Interestingly, he claims to be unmarried. Was he really estranged from Christina at the time, or was this some legal subterfuge?

Either way, in the 1930 and 1940 US Census, Edward and Christina are back together again, living at 1313, 89th Ave, Oakland, California, where Edward is employed as a night watchman at the Caterpillar plant. Christina dies in 1957 and Edward in 1966. Their only child, Eva Christina, died in 1918, age 21, in Seattle. Perhaps it was this tragedy which triggered Edward´s mining adventures?

Back in 1985, I bought a book, “Steel Rails & Silver Dreams - A History of the Dolly Varden Mines and the Narrow Gauge Dolly Varden Mines Railway”, by Darryl E. Muralt. I bought the book for its railroad history content, and was delighted when I discovered that the mine and railroad were the work of two Norwegians and a Swede. The railroad delivered silver ore to a port at Alice Arms, B.C.  -   the same small town Edward Elge lists as his address in his consulate registration!  However, the book also tells us that the Dolly Varden operation was forced to close in 1921, due to falling silver prices, so it looks like Edward´s venture was ill timed..
And when we went on a cruise to Alaska in 2011, one of our stops was Ketchican, on the southernmost tip of Alaska. Just on the other side of the US / Alaska border is the long fiord which leads to Alice Arm. Today a ghost town with a few summer residents.