A Guide to Montana Historical Society Resources
by Anna Strange
Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in a guided tour of the Montana Historical Society’s museum collection and archive. Between the historically fascinating artifacts and sheer expanse of archived documents, the experience left me in awe. I knew that I had to sit down with the Montana Historical Society (MHS) director, Bruce Whittenberg and learn more about the services the MHS offers. Anyone who knows Bruce knows that he is extremely passionate about the work of the Historical Society. After an hour with him, I felt like I was up to my elbows in useful information. I was unprepared for the number of resources our historical society provides.
Not only is our Montana Historical Society the oldest continuously operating historical society west of the Mississippi, it pre-dates the statehood of Montana. The founding fathers of Montana definitely seemed to have a vision of capturing and collecting the rich history of our Big Sky state. One statement I love that Bruce shared is, “Everything here belongs to the people of Montana. Our mission is to provide them access to it.” From the five MHS blogs, to the extensive YouTube channel, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, and over 200 podcasts on iTunes, the MHS works to make everything that they do accessible to the public. They have digitized over 1-million pages and their photo archives include over 500,000 photos.
In addition to all of their amazing data organizing and sharing, they also operate a museum, museum store, community research center (available to the public for free, Tuesday-Friday, 9-5 and Saturday, 9-1), and a variety of community programs. Did you know that the museum has free admission days? Every Second Saturday of the month from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and every Thursday night from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. Thursday night free admission coincides with free community educational programs. I’m not kidding when I tell you to come early on Thursday night because parking is hard to find. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Recently, I stopped into the museum on a Thursday night, when the “Helena, City of Gold” original 1960’s film was shown and introduced by the producer. Keep in mind that the ‘auditorium’ at the MHS for such programs has a capacity of 57 people. That night, over 200 people spilled out into the lobby to watch the program on a closed circuit television. It is an exciting place to be.
In January, the MHS Museum will open their new exhibit “From the Heart: Stan Lynde’s Comic Creations” featuring the work of legendary Montana cartoonist and author Stan Lynde. Lynde’s characters Rick O’Shay and Hip Shot will be showcased in the exhibit. “The retrospective exhibit will feature a re-creation of a comic-style Old West town, a re-creation of Lynde’s studio and will showcase many never-before-seen works from Lynde’s early cartooning years. It also will feature artifacts from his life as a cowboy and Montana promoter, and fun gifts given him by his fans over the years” (The Society Star). As always, the opening reception of the Stan Lynde exhibit will be free and open to the public on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 5 pm.
February 2016 will designate the end of the 150th Anniversary of the Montana Historical Society. On February 6, 2016 the MHS will host their 150th Anniversary Black Tie Gala at the Montana Club in Downtown Helena, Montana. Only 150 tickets will be sold, for $150 each. To make your reservations, call MHS Development Officer Susan Near at 406-444-4713 or email [email protected].
There truly is something for everyone at our Montana Historical Society and the amazing thing is that most everything is free to the public. If you are looking for a unique year-round present for the Montana or history lover in your family, I recommend gifting a membership to the Montana Historical Society (memberships start at $55). Here’s what your membership gets you.
Bruce recently said it best his quarterly newsletter, “The stories that we tell and that we help others to tell create connections, build social capital and strengthen community. There is indeed something going on at the Montana Historical Society, and it’s powerful, important and necessary in today’s world.”