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1908 Billings High School graduate helped get right to vote for women



Billings, Montana – Women’s History Month came to an end this past week, and a Billings lady is being honored for her commitment to working for reforms that will empower women all around this country.

The School District 2 board gave its approval last month for a plaque honoring Hazel Hunkins to be installed outside the Lincoln Center.

According to Judy Senteney of the League of Women Voters, the plaque is expected to be unveiled on May 18.

While she is unsure of its precise placement, she speculates that it might be someplace close to the southwest corner of the structure.

Hazel Hankins grew up in a house at 218 North 33rd Street, which is now a parking lot, at a time before the car became popular in America.

The Moss girls, who lived a few blocks to the west, were her buddies.

Leaders of the National Women’s Party recruited her while they sat on the porch, and the Pomeroy Foundation is now recognizing her for her efforts in advancing women’s voting rights.

The plaque is kept in Seneeney’s garage, and she claims that it features the suffragette colors of yellow, white, and purple.

Pioneer Hazel Hankins assisted in advancing the cause both in Montana and across the country.

The plaque honors Hazel’s dedication and tenacity as a National Women’s Party suffrage activist.

“On the grounds of the Lincoln Center, which was the high school in the early 1900s,” Senteney said.

After graduating from Billings High School in 1908, Hazel Hankins, who was born in Colorado in 1890, attended Vassar College and the University of Missouri.

She was then informed that, due to her gender, she would not be hired as a chemist.

That inspired her to join the suffragist movement.

“Her family supported her, but not too openly because of the criticism in the community,” said Senteney.

“She was writing her mom after she was arrested and getting such horrible press in places like Montana,” said Kevin Kooistra, Western Heritage Center executive director. “She would be like, ‘I’m so sorry, that I’m an embarrassment to you.'”

According to Kooistra, Hazel eventually felt at ease protesting subtly and attempting to communicate her views to President Wilson and Congress.

“They were egged, they had their banners taken from them, they were arrested many times,” Kooistra said. “And they were even sometimes attacked by other suffragists.”

Hazel’s dedication to these initiatives was further demonstrated by the fact that she piloted an airplane with the skill of a stunt pilot.

“He took me over San Francisco and I scattered suffrage leaflets on the crowds below,” she wrote in caption for a picture of her next to the airplane.

“Planes were very new,” Seteney said. “She really was taking her life in her own hands.”

The 19th Amendment was eventually passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1920.

Although it granted women the right to vote, Hazel was not advocating for women.

“She moved to England for 50 years, was the only American born president of what was called the Six Point Group, one of the leading feminist organizations in London,” Kooistra said.

In England, she has children and grandchildren.

Charles and Hazel Hankins Hallinan are buried in Mount View Cemetery in Billings.

More people in Billings and Montana will now be aware of her story as a result of the plaque.

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