This collection includes 25 interviews detailing growing up in Butte, Montana, and the working conditions in that town during the early to middle 20th century. The interviews were conducted in 1980-1981 by Mary Murphy, Helen Bresler and Paul Melvin. The interviewees discuss ethnic and racial relations, unions and mining, the Great Depression and the role of the Anaconda Company in Butte. The original interviews are held as Oral History collection OH-098 at Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, the University of Montana-Missoula.
This collection includes 25 interviews.
Agnes Cramer discusses growing up in the boarding houses where her mother worked in Butte, Montana. She describes meeting her husband in 1929, working in boarding houses until 1945, and the gradual decline in popularity that boarding houses faced during the mid-20th century. Cramer also reminisces about visiting Butte’s Columbia Gardens and Lake Avoca as a child.
Aili Goldberg describes growing up as a part of the Finnish community in Butte, Montana. She recalls her mother’s work as a cook in a boarding house, the types of food her mother prepared for the guests, and the working conditions for women in boarding houses. Goldberg discusses the rise and fall of boarding house popularity during the mid-20th century as well as work opportunities available to women. She talks about the role of organized labor in Butte and the relationships among various Butte neighborhoods.
Goldberg's husband, Clarence Goldberg, participates occasionally during the interview.
Alice Smith discusses her father, who designed buildings in Butte, Montana, during the early 20th century. She describes growing up in Butte during the 1920s and 1930s, attending school and joining the glee club in high school. Smith talks about getting married and going camping and boating at Flathead Lake [Montana] for family vacations. She recalls her husband’s job as an oiler for the Anaconda Company and her family’s English heritage. An unidentified male speaker, likely Smith’s husband, is present during the interview and occasionally contributes to the conversation. The majority of his remarks are unintelligible. The audio for this interview is available at Archives and Special Collections, but has not yet been digitized.
Anna Marinovich recalls the story of her mother moving to Anaconda, Montana, as a mail-order bride from Yugoslavia. Marinovish describes her family’s experiences in Butte, Montana, the boarding house her mother ran, and meeting her own husband in that boarding house. Marinovich discusses her relationship with her mother, who was reluctant to let her marry. She reminisces about popular characters around Butte, including Crazy Mary, Crazy Mullaney, and Tony the Trader’s family. Marinovich describes the different ethnicities living in Butte and her family’s experiences during the Spanish Influenza epidemic and the Panic of 1907.
Blanche Copenhaver describes her experiences working as a waitress and cashier in various towns in the American West which eventually led her to Butte, Montana, in 1937. She talks about her involvement with the union which began after she learned about union benefits. Copenhaver reminisces about her appointment to the Executive Board of her union and, later, her term as president. She also describes her involvement with the Status of Women Committee and the role of women in unions and in the labor force.
Chester Kinsey discusses his experiences living in Havre, Montana, and in the Great Falls area of the state. He describes his lifelong belief in socialism and Communism and his support of unions. He also discusses his work with the farmer’s union, Mine-Mill, and the Progressive Party.
Clarence Goldberg recalls his family history, including his parents’ emigration from Sweden to the United States. He describes his experiences as a miner, the development of Butte, Montana’s mining industry, the health and safety conditions in the mines, and the rise of organized labor. Goldberg also discusses the life of a miner, placing the occupation into the broader cultural context of Butte as it existed during the early 20th century. He talks about bootlegging, prostitution, and local businesses in Butte.
Goldberg's wife, Aili Goldberg, participates occasionally during the interview.
Donald A. Calder
Donald Calder discusses his family history in Butte, Montana. He describes how his father, a tailor from Scotland, moved to Butte in 1894. Calder discusses his early years in the blacksmith trade, the blacksmith’s union, and the 1960s union merger with boilermakers. He also describes ethnic and racial divisions in Butte.
Dorothy Melvin discusses the events leading up to her parents’ marriage, the ranches her family owned in Jackson, Montana and Wisdom, Montana, and the bar and ice cream parlors they later owned in Butte, Montana. She describes attending Butte High School, going to dances, and working in a laundry during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Melvin talks about meeting and marrying her husband, Robert Melvin, and his work in the Butte mines. She recalls the accident he suffered following an explosion in one of the mines and the difficulties they faced after he lost his leg.
Elizabeth Christy discusses growing up in Butte, Montana, during the Great Depression. She describes the mining culture, Butte nightlife, the Columbia Gardens, and the Ringling Brothers Circus. She also reminisces about running a grocery store with her husband, Matt Christy, on the corner of Granite Street and Crystal Street. Elizabeth Christy describes her adult social life, changing fashions, her grandfather’s role in building the Greenough House in Missoula, Montana, and her grandmother.
Helen B. McGregor
Helen McGregor describes growing up in Butte, Montana, during the early 20th century. She talks about her father’s veterinary practice, the Butte red light district, miners, strikes, and economic changes during her lifetime. McGregor also discusses studying speech and drama at the University of Montana in Missoula and teaching speech in Butte.
Helmi Hannuksela Jackson
Helmi Jackson describes her childhood in Finland and how her mother died when Helmi was only three. Jackson talks about visiting her sister in 1923 in Butte, Montana, and deciding to stay. She recalls working as a waitress in a boarding house in Butte and meeting her first husband there. She talks about taking extra work as a housemaid during the Great Depression when her husband couldn’t get a job. Jackson describes becoming a boarding house proprietor after her husband died and later remarrying.
No audio of this interview exists. The interviewer took notes and produced summary of the interview.
Henry Stanley talks about his early introduction to labor unions and progressive politics when his mother lived in South Dakota and advocated for an eight-hour work day. Stanley describes moving to Butte, Montana, with his mother and siblings and attending high school there. He recalls becoming interested in socialism when he was in high school and checking books out of the public library on the subject. Stanley reminisces about starting a strike of the newspaper boys in Butte, of which he was one. He tells how the strike was resolved and his later career as a teacher. Stanley discusses why he decided to change careers and become a carpenter as well as his involvement in the carpenters union. He reflects on the history of labor and labor unions, both in Butte, Montana, and in the larger United States. The audio for this interview is very poor. This transcript represents the audible portions.
James Curtin describes his Irish Catholic family as well as his childhood memories of attending a home wake held for his uncle, a secretary for the Wobblies. He discusses growing up in Butte, Montana, during the Great Depression and working for the mines in that area. Curtin talks about the dangerous working conditions in the mines and the conflict that arose between miners and the Anaconda Company.
Margaret Cunningham describes growing up in Butte, Montana during the early 20th century. She talks about her social life, working as a clerk, and living through the Great Depression. Cunningham discusses Butte’s Columbia Gardens, dance halls and entertainment venues as well as the different local businesses that shaped Butte’s culture. She describes the different neighborhoods in Butte, including Walkerville, Centerville, String Town, and Butcher Town.
Margaret Lemm describes growing up in the McQueen neighborhood of Butte, Montana, and her father’s work in the mines. She talks about receiving nurse’s training at St. James in 1929, marrying her husband, and reporting for special duty nursing in 1942 during World War Two. Lemm also discusses the Montana Nurses Association, the short-lived Butte Nurses Union, and her experiences with different types of nursing.
Marjorie Dunstan describes growing up in a strong Norwegian community in Butte, Montana. She talks about visiting Butte’s Columbia Gardens and Holland Rink as well as the circuses that passed through the town. She also discusses attending Butte High School where she was a part of the marching band. Dunstan recalls her father’s employment with the Montana Power Company and describes the pros and cons of Butte being a union town.
Matt Christy, who emigrated from Yugoslavia to the United States as a young man, describes working as a grocery store clerk and becoming the owner of multiple stores in Butte, Montana. He discusses various aspects of life in Butte, including the mines, city economics, prostitution, entertainment, and religion as well as the relationship between ethnic and racial groups. Christy also talks about cultural shifts he witnessed amongst the local population during his time in Butte.
Christy’s surname in Yugoslavia was Christovich. He changed it after immigrating to the United States.
Maurice Powers discusses growing up and working in Butte, Montana. He describes his involvement with unions, specifically the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, during the early and mid-20th century. Powers details the union’s interactions with Montana State Legislature. He also provides specific context for several miner strikes as well as personal stories of union men and miners.
Perdita E. Duncan
Perdita Duncan describes her experiences as a young African American growing up in Butte, Montana, during the early 20th century. She recalls the racial discrimination her parents and other African Americans faced trying to find employment in Butte as well as her father’s work as a podiatrist. Duncan reminisces about her time attending Oberlin College, the first college to admit African-American women, to study English and sociology. She discusses working in the law department of the New York City Department of Social Services and working as a music critic for a New York newspaper before returning to Butte to care for her mother in 1969.
Raymond F. Calkins
Raymond Calkins discusses his experiences living and working in Montana. He describes logging for the United States Forest Service, moving to Butte, Montana, and working as a mine draftsman for the Anaconda Company. He talks about the 1946 miners’ strike and his perspective as a non-union worker. Calkins also describes the culture of Butte, Montana.
Richard P. Grace
Richard Grace describes growing up and working in Butte, Montana, during the early to mid-20th century. He talks about various sports teams in Butte, the Columbia Gardens, and the entertainment available in the city during his childhood. Grace discusses labor issues in Butte, detailing the influence of the Anaconda Company in shaping the lifestyles of Butte citizens. He also talks at length about the Irish identity in Butte and its influence on the town’s culture.
Robert Melvin discusses his experiences growing up in Butte, Montana, during the early 20th century. He describes his Irish parents and his father’s mining and involvement with the miners’ union. Melvin recalls working for the Civilian Conservation Corporation (CCC) during the Great Depression, working in the Butte mine, and the benefits of being part of a labor union. He talks about the organization of the Anaconda Company and the mining accident that resulted in the loss of his leg.
Stephen Reardon describes his father’s work as a troubleshooter in the mines in Butte, Montana, after he returned from World War One and his involvement in certain mine disasters. He discusses ethnic and race relations between the Chinese, Irish, English and Finnish in Butte and the importance of the Catholic schools in the town. Reardon talks about attending Carroll College in Helena, Montana, as well as the University of Washington. He reminisces about teaching at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, while working part-time in the mines.
Valentine Catherine Webster
Val Webster describes growing up in a labor union family in Butte, Montana. She recalls working as waitress, waiting on the miners, and joining the Women’s Protective Union in 1929. Webster talks about serving as recording secretary for the union in 1936 and then its business agent for 16 years. She discusses her experiences as an agent, negotiating with restaurants, hotels and chains to achieve better pay, working conditions, and hours for members of the union.