Page 15 - MFM MARCH 2015
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Montana Freemason  March 2015                              Volume 91 Number 1

  The role of clubs, fraternal and benevolent societies,     The following three men need to be understood in
and other similar institutions laid the foundation         terms of their background and why being Masons
for effective civil society in mining communities.         helped them in becoming part of the leadership that
Freemasons tended to be above the median income,           shaped Montana, as well as their ability to lead in
as men within a community became Freemasons and            furthering the establishment of equality in Montana.
Freemasons migrated to a community the increase
altruism for public education that was a central           Wilbur Fisk Sanders was born in 1834 in New
component of Freemasonry would lead to legislation         York where he attended schools, and taught school. He
for higher taxes and better public good outcomes.          moved to Ohio in 1854, where he continued teaching,
Freemasons tended to be very politically active;           and studied law, gaining admission to the bar in 1856.
they use their influence for the public good of the        He became a partner in the Law Practice of his uncle
community. 3                                               Sidney Edgarton, (Edgarton was the First Governor
                                                           of Montana). During the Civil War, Sanders was
  The promotion of Montana as a place for                  commissioned a first lieutenant in the 64th Regiment.
settlement of families was an ideal to which many          He moved west in 1863, to Bannack where he engaged
Masons subscribed. From the very beginning of the          in the practice of law. He was there before courts
development of the Montana Territory and Statehood,        were organized and, being one of the first permanent
Masons put themselves on the side of those who were        settlers, took a prominent part in bringing law and
determined Montana should be a safe haven for all          order to the Montana Territory. He was a member of
who wished to live here. Freemasonry existed as a          the Vigilance Committee and served as the Prosecuting
coherent element in Montana society. 4                     Attorney against the outlaws. Through the efforts
                                                           of Sanders and the Vigilantes the reign of terror in
  Montana Masons within the Territorial legislature        Virginia City and the Territory was brought to an end.
had been working toward the expansion of women’s           Sanders had a great impact on Montana History: he
rights. In 1873, Brother Wilbur F. Sanders, a member       was charter member and Commander of the Montana
of the House of Representatives from Helena, tried         chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1864,
to give women the vote when he sought on April 19,         Indian troubles forced Governor Edgerton to create
1873 and again on January 22, 1874 to “enlarge the         a militia and he appointed Sanders a Colonel in the
suffrage”. The House rebuffed his efforts 16-7 and         Montana Militia. Sanders became the first Secretary
17-9. Alex H. Beattie a member of Virginia City No. 1,     of the Society of Montana Pioneers when it was
who was also a legislator in the Council, tried to strike  formed in 1864. He was elected first chairman of the
the word “male” from a bill on voter qualifications        Montana Bar Association organized in 1865. When
on February 12, 1874 which failed by a vote 8-5. The       the Montana Historical Society was founded in 1865,
failure to pass was in some aspects the result of the      he was elected as its first president and held that office
lack of interest due to the proportional of 7 men          for twenty-five years. Sanders took a leading role in
for every woman. As a result most men showed little        the effort to relocate the territorial capital to Helena.
interest in the suffrage movement. 5                       He was a member of the Territorial Legislature
                                                           from 1873 to 1879. He served as President of the
  A measure was introduced by Walter M. Bickford,          Montana Wesleyan University in Helena 1889-1900.
an Attorney from Missoula, to amend the Compiled           After the admission of Montana as a State in 1889 he
Laws of Montana to allow women to practice law.            was elected to the U.S. Senate 1890 and served one
On January 31, 1889 the Montana Territorial Council        term. The first and only statue in the Montana Capital
passed Council Bill #4 and sent it to the House.           building, until 1980, was of Wilbur F. Sanders. Brother
Governor Preston H. Leslie signed the bill on              Sanders was raised in Akron Lodge No. 83, Akron
February 13, 1889. The Supreme Court assigned three        Ohio on November 8, 1859. In 1863, he was part of
well known Attorneys to conduct the bar exam on the        the movement to form a Masonic Lodge and was a
first woman applicant. 6                                   charter member of Virginia City Lodge No. 43 of the

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