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DFL Feminist Caucus

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Photograph of Kate Wulf and Jeri Rasmussen

Kate Wulf (center) and Jeri Rasmussen (right) at the 1982 DFL convention, Duluth. From box 1, folder 1 (Photographs: Annual meetings, 1974, 1981–1983) of the DFL Feminist Caucus papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. Photograph by Kathy H. Drazen.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Feminist Caucus was founded in 1973 to advocate for feminist positions on issues like poverty among women, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Its members lobbied the Minnesota State Legislature, endorsed candidates, and produced a US Senate candidate of their own in 1984.

In 1971 a commission led by Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party State Chair Koryne Horbal published a report titled “Women in the DFL: Present but Powerless.” This analysis of women’s roles in the DFL found that “even the ‘open’ and ‘accessible’ DFL yields a record of inequality so far as women are concerned.” It urged the foundation of women’s caucuses to advocate for women’s rights.

In April 1973 frustration with both the DFL Women’s Caucus and the non-partisan Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus led Horbal and six other “founding mothers” to form the DFL Feminist Caucus (DFLFC). The other six women were Mary Pattock Bremer, Cynthia Kitlinski, Yvette Oldendorf, Jeri Rasmussen, Mary Peek, and Peggy Spektor. Prominent female politicians like Secretary of State Joan Growe, State Representative Phyllis Kahn, and State Representative Linda Berglin also joined the caucus, which included male members like 1982 US Senate candidate Mark Dayton.

The DFLFC supported thirteen principles, including resolutions to support the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, “economic justice for women at home and in the work force,” and feminists seeking election at all levels of government. The caucus only endorsed candidates who actively supported all of its principles. In 1974 Horbal gave the first “Feminist State of the State” address, which advocated for more jobs for women, increased child care funding, the ERA, abortion rights, and subsidies for women’s health.

As the DFLFC grew its membership and supported the candidacies of women like Secretary Growe, it became a controversial force within Minnesota politics and the DFL. In 1977 it helped lobby for the passage of a bill guaranteeing rights to displaced homemakers. Lobbying by the caucus’s executive committee helped secure Governor Rudy Perpich’s appointment of Rosalie Wahl as the first woman on the state’s Supreme Court. Moreover, in 1979 the caucus secured funding of $3 million to create Minnesota’s first battered women’s shelter. In 1980 a caucus member, Claire Rumpel, who had been associate chair in 1978 and 1979, became the State DFL party chair.

However, the group members’ advocacy for the ERA and abortion rights brought them into conflict with other DFLers. Their intense arguments with pro-life advocates at the June 1977 Minnesota Women’s Meeting in St. Cloud prompted negative backlash directed at Perpich and Secretary Growe. In 1978 they failed to prevent the passage of a bill, sponsored by DFL legislators Ray Kempe and Florian Chemielewski, that cut off funding for abortion services to poor women.

In the 1980s the DFLFC continued to fight for feminist issues and place its supported candidates in prominent statewide races. In 1984 Secretary Growe, a longtime supporter of the DFLFC, won the DFL nomination for US Senate; in 1986 St. Paul Mayor George Latimer chose longtime member Arvonne Fraser to be his running mate in the DFL gubernatorial primary. While neither was successful, the DFLFC had secured a prominent place in determining the DFL’s candidates and party platform.

The DFLFC has advocated for progressive causes and supported feminist candidates at all levels of political involvement. Minneapolis’ passage of same-sex domestic partnership legislation in 1991 was attributed by city council member Brian Coyle to a 1989 attitudes survey performed by the DFLFC. The caucus was a prominent supporter of the mayoral candidacies of Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, and St. Paul candidates Marlene Johnson and Sandy Pappas. As of 2018, it remains an active organization.

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“1977: Battered Women/Domestic Violence.” Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline: Significant Legislature Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage (1919–2014). Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.
https://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/womenstimeline/details?recid=26

Aronson, Bob (staff assistant to Rudy Perpich), to Janet Sigford, July 27, 1977, and Joan Growe to Janet Sigford, July 11, 1977. Box 3. DFL Feminist Caucus records. Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Drazen, Kathy H., Barbara Warrington, and Judy Yaeger Jones. “Celebrating 10: 1973–1983” (St. Paul: DFL Feminist Caucus, 1983). Box 3. DFL Feminist Caucus records. Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Horbal, Koryne. “The First Feminist State of the State Address,” November 11, 1974. Box 4. DFL Feminist Caucus records. Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

St. Martin, Michelle. “Where the Girls Are: Do Women’s Political Organizations Really Have Any Clout?” Minnesota Women’s Press, August 25, 2004.

Wattenberg, Esther, ed. “Women in the DFL…A Preliminary Report: Present but Powerless?” May 1971. Box 1, Folder 6, pp. 4, 24. Koryne Horbal papers. Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Related Images

Photograph of Kate Wulf and Jeri Rasmussen
Photograph of Kate Wulf and Jeri Rasmussen
Photograph of Dorothy Baker and Ann Keeler
Photograph of Dorothy Baker and Ann Keeler
Photograph of DFLFC members assembled for the "State of the State" address, January 1982
Photograph of DFLFC members assembled for the "State of the State" address, January 1982
Photograph of Mary Pattock Bremer, Peggy Specktor, Koryne Horbal, and Yvette Oldendorf
Photograph of Mary Pattock Bremer, Peggy Specktor, Koryne Horbal, and Yvette Oldendorf

Turning Point

The 1977 passage of a bill guaranteeing rights to displaced homemakers signals the arrival of the DFLFC as a prominent lobbyist group. In subsequent State DFL conventions, the DFLFC held substantial influence in passing resolutions and endorsing candidates.

Chronology

1971

A commission led by DFL State Chair Koryne Horbal publishes the report “Women in the DFL: Present but Powerless.”

1973

The DFL Feminist Caucus (DFLFC) is founded in April.

1974

The DFLFC opens its first office at the Griggs-Midway office building in St. Paul on January 7.

1976

The DFLFC supports the passage of legislation establishing the Minnesota Council on the Economic Status of Women.

1977

Members of the DFLFC clash with pro-life advocates at the Minnesota Women’s Meeting at St. Cloud State University between June 2 and 6.

1977

Rosalie Wahl is appointed to the Minnesota State Supreme Court on October 3.

1980

On November 13, the DFLFC is a founding member of Minnesota Women’s Consortium, a non-partisan league of women’s organizations.

1982

In June, the DFLFC successfully prevents eventual DFL lieutenant governor nominee Carl Johnson (running mate of Warren Spannaus) from gaining endorsement on the first ballot with a vocal campaign for Duluth legislator Arlene Lehto.

1984

DFLFC member and Minnesota Secretary of State Joan Growe runs unsuccessfully for Minnesota Senate.

1990

In June, DFL gubernatorial primary candidate Mike Hatch chooses DFLFC member Emily Anne Staples as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

1991

Aided by a DFLFC survey signaling support for LGBT rights, the City of Minneapolis passes legislation guaranteeing benefits to same-sex couples.

1993

The DFLFC supports eventual winner Sharon Sayles Belton in her campaign for Minneapolis mayor.