By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current

It was the evening of Nov. 19, 1904.

The members of the Clarkia Literary Society at the University of Montana in Missoula gathered to initiate “about fifteen young ladies” into their society.

The student newspaper, the Kaimin, reported that “the candidates were led into a dark room strewn with dictionaries, lexicons, Greek and Latin books, as well as the works of Shakespeare and other English poets. The candidates were turned loose one at a time and asked to make a selection.”

“After making a choice, each young woman was then led to a desk on which burned an oil lamp, of the Roman type giving off a faint blue flame, and where were seated the spectacled judges in caps and robes. Each judge held in her hand a roll of manuscript while nearby stood a well of ink and a large quill.”

One by one the women were called to step forward. Each “unfortunate” was then put through a literary drill. But the women were well versed, and each was quickly inducted into the group.

Clarkia Society, June 4, 1897
Clarkia Society, June 4, 1897

Then came a surprise. The doors were opened, and members of the men’s literary group, the Hawthornes, were invited in for a joint session.

Given the just-concluded initiation, the “Clarkia easily outnumbered the Hawthorne.” As the Kaimin put it, “Never in the history of the Hawthorne Literary Society did the membership seem so small and insignificant as on that evening.”

The Clarkia and Hawthorne societies were among the earliest groups created by University of Montana students, dating back to the late 1800s.

By the early 1900s, members of both groups were participating in the Shakespeare Club and the Quill and Dagger Society for dramatics.

Quill and Dagger Club, scene in Opera House, Missoula, Montana. #1 UM Archives & Special Collections
Quill and Dagger Club, scene in Opera House, Missoula, Montana. #1 UM Archives & Special Collections

In many early productions, animals were part of the cast, including a bear – or bear cub. More on that later - let’s not become sidetracked, just yet.

Each group produced stage plays through the years. In 1902, the Clarkia Society presented “two spicy comedies under the direction of Miss Kellogg, instructor in elocution.”

“The first, ‘The Obstinate Family,’ is a laughable series of lovers’ quarrels, which of course always terminates with reconciliation. The second, ‘Best Laid Plans,’ is the story of a visiting nobleman from over the water, who comes the intention of deeply impressing the American young ladies.”

The Hawthorne Society, meantime, produced its own “amusements,” including a production of Richelieu in 1905, in which world famous Shakespearean actor and Missoula resident Daniel E. Bandmann helped stage the play and joined them in the starring role as Lord Cardinal Richelieu.

William M. O. Dickinson - Quill & Dagger - June 4, 1905 Missoulian
William M. O. Dickinson - Quill & Dagger - June 4, 1905 Missoulian

“The best histrionic talent of the University (was) selected to support Mr. Bandmann” including William M. O. Dickinson, a member of Quill & Dagger Society, who played the part of Huguet, a spy and captain of the guard.

While the Quill and Dagger Society was the “official dramatic organization” on campus, it went in and out of favor depending on the interest (or lack of it) of the students.

In 1906 and 1907, the society floundered. The Kaimin newspaper reported, “interest had dropped in such work, and the Quill and Dagger group was not in existence.”

But in 1908, the society was “revived” with the production of “Tulu,” to be followed by “two other light productions, ‘The Box of Monkees' and 'Mr. Bob.' ”

Soon after, the Quill and Dagger Society became known as the “Montana Masquers” student group, and in 1918 “the group became the Masquer Theatre Organization, then later the Montana Masquers.”

According to documents in the UM Archives, “In the 1920s, Professor Carl Glick helped establish the first permanent home for the Masquers on campus in Simpkins Hall.”

“In 1930, much of the impetus for including a theater in the Student Union Building proposal to the Board of Regents came when Lennox Robinson of the Abbey Theater in Dublin helped the Masquers produce ‘Juno and the Paycock.’”

“As UM was one of the few schools in the United States to produce this play, it brought national recognition to the University in American theater circles and added to the push for a theater facility in the soon-to-be-constructed building.”

Oh, yes – that bear. I mustn’t forget the bear. He was, “nursed from tender cub-hood by the faculty ... was the likable mascot of the UM football team ... (and) played an important part in one of the Quill and Dagger Society’s performances” at Missoula’s Union opera house.

The production was, naturally, “a football comedy/drama,” named ‘Teddy,’ replete with a number of fine selections, including vocal and instrumental numbers, character sketches, etc.”

“Teddy, the actual bear, was taught a number of fine tricks and will do a number of good stunts for the edification of the audience. The Quill and Dagger Society promised it would be the event of season.”

And yes – Teddy was the original “Monte.”

We’ll tell that story next week.

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at