First women to…plan
Part two in Women’s History Month series
This month, a little pop-up under the Google search bar included a link to a video commemorating Women’s History Month. Its caption stated that in the past year the phrase ‘the first woman’ was searched more than ever before. The video went on to highlight some feminine firsts, ranging from coronavirus vaccination research to scaling peaks. This month, the Lookout honors a few of Big Sky’s firsts.
Caroline McGill was ahead of her time in many ways.
One of the first being that she had the foresight to start saving artifacts and created a ‘things to put in the museum’ list for what would eventually come into existence as the Museum of the Rockies.
A Bozeman Daily Chronicle article from 1997 described how McGill wrote to friends asking for antiques and artifacts and searched through second-hand stores for things she would have recognized as original items. China, toys, medical equipment and hay rakes lay in the museum’s storage room and are a testament to McGill’s success.
The second way related to her profession.
McGill was born in Ohio and settled in Butte as she moved West. She was one of the first female doctors in Montana, and was the first female pathologist in the state, Anne Marie Mistretta, Historic Crail Ranch Museum volunteer, researcher and early Montana history extraordinaire, said. After visiting the Bighorn Ranch, which would eventually become the 320 Ranch, McGill fell in love, Mistretta explained, and her family purchased the ranch in 1936.
“She believed that bringing people to this area would help them with their health, so again, a woman ahead of her time,” Mistretta said. Her approach to medicine involved overall well-being, something still not completely mainstream today.
Not surprising, especially from someone that created a list of things to put in a museum, McGill was concerned with capturing history.
“McGill was very community minded and she was spending some of her time here interviewing people, trying to capture the oral history. Her notes are in the Burlingame (Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections of the MSU Library) and the Renne Library (at Montana State University),” Mistretta said.
McGill hoped to write a book with the interviews and voices she recorded in the 1940s and 1950s. While this did not end up coming together, the audio was used by Mistretta as she and her partner put together their own book, Images of American, and by Dorothy Vick, who eventually wrote the book.
Vick was born in the Gallatin Gateway in 1914. Her surname, Michener, should sound familiar to just about anyone who has been in Big Sky for even a short period of time.
Thomas Michener’s family property enveloped the Conoco through to the gravel pit and west to the Soldier’s Chapel. A man ahead of his time as well, Michener saw the early value of tourism, evident in the way he started the first dude ranch in the area. After some claim jumping and murdered employees, the Micheners relocated to the southwest in 1919 to avoid controversy.
Despite the early bloodshed, Vick, who became a Vick after marrying her husband, Joe Vick, returned to the Michener property in the 1930s. With the tourism spirit in her blood, the couple began a pan for gold exhibit for visitors on the West Fork of the Upper Gallatin.
“She became very community minded,” Mistretta said.
That and education being a strong family value, Vick unsurprisingly became the chair of the Gallatin County Women’s Club, the first philanthropic organization in the area.
Vick and McGill’s lives began to overlap as Vick became chair of the club.
Before her death in 1957, McGill set aside a sum of her inheritance, somewhere between $27,000-$29,000, for the women’s club. Upon receival, Vick, as the chair, insisted the money be used for a new schoolhouse.
The first schoolhouse was donated to the area by Vick’s mother’s sister. Eugene Crail built the first dedicated schoolhouse in 1929, and 20 or so years did not act kindly upon the cabin. A new school was built in the 1960s, with a stipulation attached to McGill’s money that it includes a community room.
Inside the high school, which became that newly built school building thanks to McGill’s money, the sound of hollower footsteps near the front office reveals a lost community room, now a storage area, underneath.
Education and community were arguably at the front of mind for both Vick and McGill and as coincidence would have it, the two decades they were in each other’s’ lives led to the creation of a schoolhouse that still stands and is integral to the Big Sky community today.