25 Years of Empowering Montana Women & Girls

The year was 1999.

The Women’s Foundation of Montana (WFM) was established with a $500,000 challenge grant from the Chambers Family Fund, which championed the creation of women’s funds in multiple states including Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma with dollars and ideas. Merle Chambers, President of Chambers Family Fund, envisioned a permanent resource for women and girls. She partnered with community foundations to help create new statewide women’s funds: Wyoming Women’s Foundation, Women’s Foundation of Montana, and Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma.

Working with the Montana Community Foundation (MCF) over the following five-year period, the Chambers Family Fund matched dollar-for-dollar that initial $500,000 donated to the endowment. Additional monies were also provided for issue research and granting purposes and staff.

WFM was established with the mission of improving the economic status of Montana women and creating a brighter economic future for girls through non-traditional approaches to employment and training, education, and leadership development.

The initial Advisory Committee members included Nancy Owens, Dorothy Eck, Merle Chambers, Jean Kahn, Carolyn Stamy, Suzanne Small Trusler, and Ellen Alweis.

The first grantees of the fund included:

  • Dress for Success (Billings) who received a $5,000 grant for general operating support for its services to help low-income women gain employment and become economically self-sufficient by providing low-cost professional clothes for interviews and beginning work, along with makeup and interview training.
  • Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development who received a $5,000 grant for strategic planning that addressed board diversity and community outreach and collaboration with other organizations, enhancing its ability to assist low-income people, particularly women, in achieving long-term economic self-sufficiency.
  • WEEL (Working for Equality and Economic Liberation) who received a $4,000 grant for operational support to help maintain its ability to advocate on a statewide basis on behalf of Montana’s low-income individuals and families.

At this time, MCF's general grant program supported grants in Arts and Culture, Economic Development, Education, Basic Human Needs, and Natural Resources and Conservation.

Milestones

  • 1999 – WFM Established.
  • 2005 - $1 Million Fundraising goal and match reached.
  • 2009 – Worked in coalition with a professional lobbyist to end predatory lending practices in Montana.
  • 2011 – WFM coordinated the SAFE project. SAFE provided a free comprehensive financial education class for women in financial crisis to learn about budgeting, credit, and saving for the future.
  • 2013 – WFM released new data on the Status of Women in Montana.
  • 2014 – WFM partnered with the Governor's Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force and Montana State University to host Montana's first-ever Equal Pay Summit.
  • 2015 – PowerHouse Montana was launched as an initiative of the Women’s Foundation of Montana, created as a networking tool to connect women across Montana.
  • 2019 – On Equal Pay Day, WFM released a Women in the Workforce report. The report illuminated the prevalence of sexual harassment at work and the impact it has on women’s economic prospects.
  • 2020 – Mardele Maryott, a music teacher from Red Lodge, had left her entire estate to MCF to benefit the Women’s Foundation of Montana. Mardele’s gift totaled more than $1.1 million.
  • 2023 – Granted out $300,000 to WFM Partners, continuing our commitment to supporting women in communities across our state.