Paving the Way: The Path to Calling Montana’s 1972 Constitutional Convention -- Ty Robinson, Jean Bowman & Toni Hagener “In the Crucible of Change”

Ty Robinson
Jean Bowman
Toni Hagener
Evan Barrett, Executive Producer

This interview/discussion is a segment of the series “In the Crucible of Change” - Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change [1965-1980] - From a Corporate Colony to a Citizens’ State and the Challenge of Keeping It That Way - An Evan Barrett Telefilm Series; Produced by: Highlands College/Montana Tech & Orphan Girl Productions (Evan Barrett); Executive Producers: Evan Barrett & John Garic; Host/Moderator: Evan Barrett; Produced in the studios of Helena Civic Television (HCTV) – Production unit: Kirsten Faubion, Stephen Maly, Dave Clarke, Kelsea Kimerly, Lauren Fredrickson, Jeanie McLean-Warden; Opening Voice Recording - Ian Hadley; Photos: Montana Historical Society Photo Archives - Tom Cook; Personal Photo Archives of Evan Barrett; Music: “Living Room Jam” & “Island Breeze” - Richard H. Kuschel - The Recording Center - Missoula, Montana; “Orphan Girl” used by permission of Headframe Spirits – John & Courtney McKee; Partially funded by Grants from Humanities Montana (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Montana History Foundation, and The Greater Montana Foundation (encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans).


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.”

Jean Bowman of Missoula moved to Billings in 1960 where she became active in the Billings and State Leagues of Women Voters—serving as president of the Billings League and vice president of the State League. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the Billings City Council and Mayor of Billings before being elected in November 1971 as a Yellowstone County delegate to the Montana Constitutional Convention. One of nineteen women delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Jean was elected Secretary of the Convention and also served on the Judiciary Committee and the Administration Committee. Jean moved to Missoula in 1980 where she attended the University of Montana, graduating with high honors in political science. After graduating from UM Law School, Jean served as law clerk for Montana Supreme Justice John C. Harrison for 2 years. At that point, she moved into hospital administration as a career, including three stints as Hospital Executive Director: two years for St. Peter's Hospital in Helena; two years in Bremerton, WA for Harrison Memorial Hospital; and ten years at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. Jean is now a retired mother of four children and six grandchildren and is an active volunteer in many Missoula non-profits.

Ty Robinson of Missoula was born and raised in north central Montana living in six different towns & cities in his youth, playing basketball on four different high school teams. After graduating from the University of Montana with a BA and JD in Law, Ty worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. After a stint in the Navy Ty became in-house counsel for the Missoula Mercantile. Sixty years ago, in 1954, he became a partner in the Garlington, Lohn & Robinson law firm in Missoula where he still serves as Senior Counsel. He has been active in civil affairs at state, county, and city levels in matters of education, health and environment. He is a past president of Missoula Rotary, where he has been a member for 54 years. Ty has served on many public bodies over the years and was appointed by the Montana Supreme Court in early 1971 to the Montana Constitutional Convention Commission, the body responsible for preparing for Montana’s 1972 Constitutional Convention by undertaking studies and research, and by compiling without recommendation essential information for the delegates.

Toni Hagener of Havre has A.B. Degree in Biological Sciences and Education from University of Denver. She has taught high school in Denver and Havre as well as teaching at Northern Montana College. She established the quality testing laboratory for the Vita Rich Dairy in Havre where she worked for 15 years and was also the Curator of the H. Earl Clack Museum in Havre. Very active in community work, in the 1970s she served a decade as member and chair of the Montana Historical Society Board. She was also on the Havre School Board, City of Havre Study Commission and advisor to the Hill County Study Commission. She was elected Hill County Commissioner in 1980 and 1986. Deeply involved in the Montana Association of Counties, she served as President of MACO 1986-87 and was an active member of the National Association of Counties. She was elected to the Montana House of Representatives serving in the 1995, 1997, and 1999 sessions. Toni also served on several appointive positions with both the Ted Schwinden and Marc Racicot Administrations. A recipient of many local state and national awards, Toni was an AAUW President both locally and for the state. As an AAUW activist and a member of the League of Women Voters, she was heavily engaged in the effort to call the Montana Constitutional Convention and ratify its product. She is a frequent speaker and author of articles on local issues and events related to the history and development of the Havre area. Hagener is the mother of 4 children and grandmother of 5.