Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus


Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Dennis Swibold

Commitee Members

Carol Van Valkenburg, James Lopach


independent, journalism, cooperative, Montana


University of Montana


Pettinger, Anne, M.A., Autumn 2006 Journalism Harry and Gretchen Billings and the People’s Voice Chairperson: Dennis Swibold Though the People’s Voice was published for three decades and during a time when Montana was undergoing significant change, little has been written about the paper and its long-time editors, Harry and Gretchen Billings. The weekly Voice, published in Helena from 1939 to 1969, was conceived in response to frustration over corporate control of most of the state’s dailies. As a cooperatively owned paper that refused commercial advertising and gave complete independence to its editor, the Voice was an anomaly in mid-twentieth century Montana. As such, the paper and its editors deserve more study. What role did the Voice play in Montana politics and journalism? What were Harry and Gretchen’s goals and motivations? What resulted from their efforts, and what hardships did they face? Were their sacrifices worth it? Much of the research for this project consisted of reading thirty years of back issues of the People’s Voice and studying an extensive archived collection of Harry and Gretchen’s correspondence, notes and clippings. An unpublished manuscript that Harry wrote in the late ’80s revealed his retrospective thoughts on many issues. Interviews conducted with a variety of people, including former Montana governors, lawmakers, lobbyists and journalists, as well as Harry and Gretchen’s sons and friends, provided context and anecdotes to help piece the story together. Together, the newspapers, archived materials and interviews demonstrated that Harry and Gretchen’s influence in Montana has extended considerably further than the limited credit they’ve received in the history books would indicate. The Voice served as a hub that helped bring the state’s progressive community together. That Montana’s Constitution, which reflects many of Harry and Gretchen’s values, was written and ratified at the end of the Voice’s era is no coincidence. More than anything else, the Constitution is a reason for people today to learn about Harry and Gretchen’s work.



© Copyright 2006 Anne Elizabeth Pettinger