Blanche Montgomery Ralston, Delta leader and government official, was born in Durant, Mississippi, to William A. Montgomery and Dona Linder Montgomery, on 3 June 1892. She attended public schools there before entering the Industrial Institute and College at Columbus in 1908 to study music. For three years after leaving college she taught music in Carroll County’s schools. In 1913 she married Robert Shaw Ralston and moved to Coahoma County, where her husband was a planter. A gifted speaker with an engaging personality, Blanche Ralston soon rose to prominence in public affairs. In 1922 she began a long association with the Mississippi Federation of Women’s Clubs (MFWC) and served as state president 1924–26. She conducted a vigorous “buy more cotton” crusade to stimulate marketing of the state’s staple crop. While she was secretary of the Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, the Clarksdale Cotton Carnival began. From 1924 to 1930 she edited the Mississippi Woman’s Magazine and the federation’s journal, and from 1928 to 1932 she served as state press chair for the Daughters of the American Revolution.
In 1924 Ralston was named to the Board of Trustees of State Universities and Colleges. She served as state legislative chair of the parent-teacher association and was a board member of the Mississippi Conference on Social Welfare. From 1926 to 1932 she was the only woman member of the quasi-public Mississippi State Board of Development. She served as secretary of the Central Committee for the Economic Survey of Mississippi from its creation in 1929–31. That post led to a gubernatorial appointment as one of twenty-five Mississippians directed to make a social and economic survey of the state as a basis for Gov. Martin S. Conner’s legislative program.
Ralston was a founding member of the Delta Council in 1935, the year she became one of five (later six) regional supervisors of women’s and professional work relief under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). As a close confidant and longtime associate of Ellen S. Woodward in women’s organizations and with varied experiences in governmental advisory capacities, Ralston supervised work projects in twelve southeastern states. At the liquidation of most WPA projects in 1942, she became a member of the Woman’s Advisory Committee (WAC) of the War Manpower Commission, which met periodically in Washington to determine how best to allocate womanpower in the national defense program without the woman worker’s serious neglect of domestic duties, including child care and food services.
With the end of the war, Ralston’s association with national programs ended, but she remained vital in the civic programs of her the town of Coahoma and of the county. Following her husband’s death, she and her sons operated a plantation. She died in Clarksdale on 20 September 1958 after a year of failing health.
- Clarksdale Daily Register (22 July 1958)
- Margaret Hickey Papers, University of Missouri, St. Louis
- Ralston Vertical File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- American Biography 66 (1931)
- Martha H. Swain, Ellen S. Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women (1995)