Crucible Episodes (old)


Episode 16: Paving the Way: The Path to Calling Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention - In the Crucible of Change

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2015

Streaming Media


Nationally, the 1960s were a time when many states looked at modifying their archaic constitutions. Montana, who’s constitution was written in 1889 (only slightly modified from the 1884 draft), was no exception. But the Treasure State was perhaps the nation’s biggest success in constitution-changing. The old constitution was written to protect the interests of Montana’s mining interests and those of the industries that supported mining. It established an almost deliberately ineffective state government, to the advantage of the powerful. And within the old constitution there was a serious limitation on amending it. A Constitutional Convention appeared to be the only route to a better Montana legal framework. Efforts by grassroots Montanans to call such a convention were led by the activist women of Montana. Groups like the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) spend the better part of a decade pushing for the change. When a study by a special committee of the Legislative Council found that while almost half the sections of the Constitution were adequate, 20% needed revision and the rest needed to be repealed, the battle was on. The 1969 Legislature authorized a referendum “calling” the Constitutional Convention which the voters passed overwhelmingly in November 1970. The Montana Constitutional Revision Commission was also created and it began to lay the groundwork. The 1971 Legislature then passed the needed legislation to allow delegates to the Convention to be elected late that year and also created the Montana Constitutional Convention Commission to undertake studies and research, and compile without recommendation essential information for the delegates.

The lead up to the Constitutional Convention was not without opposition, so positive and persistent leadership was required. That story is discussed in this episode by three major players in the effort, all directly involved in the calling of the Constitutional Convention to revise Montana’s 1889 Constitution: Ty Robinson (the last living member of the Montana Constitutional Convention Commission), Jean Bowman (Local and State leader of the League of Women Voters) and Toni Hagener (a League member and also a leader in AAUW). Their recollections provide an insider’s perspective of this significant effort that culminated in a new Constitution for Montana in 1972 which was perhaps the most important change in Montana “In the Crucible of Change.”