Free Speech, Sedition, and Montana During World War I

Program Description

Montana experienced a wave of intense and almost unprecedented anti-German sentiment during World War I that included burning German-language textbooks, daily harassment of German-speaking immigrants, and the passage of a sweeping “anti-sedition” law in 1917, the framework upon which the US Congress later fashioned national legislation. “Free Speech, Sedition, and Montana During World War I” explores Montana’s complex history during the first world war, and the anti-German hysteria that griped many communities, including larger Montana cities such as Billings. For this presentation, Dr. Keith Edgerton will discuss why Montana’s sedition act language was problematic, the parallels of the current political climate that Montanans can draw upon from the events of a century ago, and why immigrants are so often targeted during time of national stress and crises. To discuss these topics, a power point presentation, along with a website with documentary clips from the PBS film, “Jailed for Their Words” will be utilized in the presentation.

Presenter Bio

Dr. Keith Edgerton was a professor of humanities and history in the Montana University System (U of M and MSU-Billings) for over 35 years.  He has published numerous works on Montana history and related subjects and have spoken to dozens of groups over the years on a variety of Montana-based topics. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Washington State University. He has published and has spoken on a variety of history topics over the years. He has published two books, one of the histories of the Montana Highway Patrol and his most recent one entitled Montana Justice: Power, Punishment, and the Penitentiary published by the University of Washington Press in 2005. Currently he is at work on an on again off again biography of William A. Clark (not to be confused with the William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame). This particular William A. Clark was one of Montana’s late 19th century copper barons and became a U.S. Senator in 1901 in an election tainted by, to put it mildly, scandal and corruption.


Dr. Keith Edgerton