Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism
Department or School/College
University of Montana
In 1987, after almost 70 years of reporting and editing, Bessie Kerlee Monroe died the oldest working journalist in the country. She lived and reported from Hamilton, Montana, in the developing Bitterroot Valley for the better part of the 20th century.
Born in 1888 on a pioneer homestead, B.K. spent the first third of her life living resourcefully and tenaciously. She learned to read from the newspapers plastered to her cabin walls. She lived for several years in the woods with her husband and gave birth to six children. Her last child arrived a few months after her husband’s untimely death. Left with six mouths to feed, a year of high school and no professional experience except a short stint as a reporter. B.K. summoned up her determined spirit and set out to become a journalist.
First hired as a correspondent for the Missoulian in 1920, B.K. filed Ravalli County reports on a daily mail bus, requiring her children help collect news and send copy. She also convinced Hamilton’s Ravalli Republican to run her material, and within two years added correspondence for Butte’s Montana Standard to her basket of wage-earning opportunities.
Eventually she also wrote for the Western News, the Ravalli Republican s rival, and served as editor for both papers at different times. During the 1930s, B.K. also became the local Associated Press correspondent - a job she held until a stroke nearly took her life in 1968. Left with partial paralysis, she turned her energy into writing historical pieces, following up on her poetry and filing weekly columns.
B.K. served in several leadership capacities in her community and impacted fellow journalists with her depth, dedication and will. She was a woman ahead of her time. Untrained, however, B.K. developed her own journalism guidelines in the context of her time and made some news decisions that would be called into question today. Nonetheless, the indomitable B.K. left a legacy of longevity and resilience, paving the way for women in journalism and writing volumes of columns tracking 150 years of people in the Bitterroot. Here, for the first time, her story is presented and her writing collected.
Stromnes-Elias, Katja A., "THE BITTERROOT’S TIN CUP KID: JOURNALIST BESSIE K. MONROE CHRONICLES A CENTURY" (2001). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 11467.
© Copyright 2001 Katja A. Stromnes-Elias