Eugenie Moore Anderson emerged as a trailblazer for American women in international diplomacy during the post-World War II era. In 1949 she became the first American woman to hold the rank of ambassador.
The Andrews Sisters hold a singular place among the many famous Minnesota-born musical talents who have made it big. Rising to fame in the swing era of the late 1930s, they developed their successful close-harmony formula early on. Patty, the blond mezzo-soprano, sang lead; Maxene, the brunette, sang soprano; and LaVerne, the redhead, sang contralto. The trio recorded more than six hundred songs, sold over ninety million records, earned fifteen gold records, and had a dozen number-one hits. Forty-six of their tunes made it to the Billboard Top Ten chart—more than either Elvis Presley or The Beatles.
Frances Andrews worked as an advocate for social justice, education, and conservation in the early twentieth century. She called for preservation of the forests and lakes that became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and experimented with land restoration in northwestern Wisconsin. Her legacy includes an endowment that continues to support social and environmental causes in the 2010s.
The women's theater movement began in the early 1970s and continued until the mid–1980s. Echoing the second-wave feminism sweeping the country, it fostered the growth of more than 185 theaters, with an emphasis on women's issues. One of these, At the Foot of the Mountain Theater in Minneapolis, made a lasting mark on the Twin Cities.
Elizabeth Taylor Ayer's life spanned nearly the entire nineteenth century. In an era when women rarely had professional careers, her work as a teaching missionary gave her more status and independence than most women enjoyed.
For many Americans, the name Betty Crocker evokes an image of domestic perfection. From the often-reissued Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to the iconic red spoon logo that bears her signature, Betty Crocker is one of the most recognized names in cooking. It comes as a surprise to some that “America’s First Lady of Food” is, in fact, fictional.
Harriet Bishop, best known as the founder of St. Paul’s first public and Sunday schools, was also a social reformer, land agent, and writer. In the 1840s, she led a vanguard of white, middle-class, Protestant women who sought to bring “moral order” to the multi-cultural fur-trade society of pre-territorial Minnesota.
Ruth Boynton was a physician, researcher, and administrator who spent almost her entire career at the University of Minnesota (U of M). She worked in public health and student health services. At that time there were few women in any of these fields. She was Director of the University Student Health Service from 1936 to 1961. It was renamed the Boynton Health Service in her honor in 1975.
Fanny Fligelman Brin devoted her life to the causes of world peace, democracy, social justice, and Jewish welfare. Her long career as a peace activist included involvement with the National Council of Jewish Women, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, among others.
Marvel Cooke was a pioneering African American female journalist and political activist. Cooke's groundbreaking career was spent in a world where she was often the only female African American. Talking about her work for the white-owned newspaper the Compass, she told biographer Kay Mills in 1988, ''there were no black workers there and no women."
In June 1922, the Minneapolis Public Library book wagon made its first trip from Minneapolis to Excelsior, a small village on Lake Minnetonka. Riding aboard the book wagon was Gratia Countryman, the library system's visionary director.
From the 1890s through the 1950s, Frances Densmore researched and recorded the music of American Indians. Through more than twenty books, 200 articles, and some 2,500 Graphophone recordings, she preserved important cultural traditions that might otherwise have been lost. She received honors from Macalester College in St. Paul and the Minnesota Historical Society in the last years of her life.
In a special state senate election held in January of 2002, Mee Moua became the first Asian woman chosen to serve in the Minnesota Legislature and the first Hmong American elected to any state legislature. Her win in St. Paul’s District 67 made national news and had lasting political and cultural impacts on the Hmong community.
Wanda Gág (rhymes with "cog") was determined to be an artist from an early age, and ultimately she succeeded. Her talent steered her through family hardship and hesitant early artistic efforts until she created Millions of Cats, her 1928 children's book. It has never been out of print.
During World War I, families began to hang flags in their windows that displayed a gold star for each relative killed in military service. The title “gold star mother” was used unofficially to describe a woman who had lost a child in service until the national organization American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., was established in 1929. Many Minnesota mothers claimed membership, and local Minnesota chapters followed.
From 1900–1915, the girls’ preparatory school Graham Hall catered to well-to-do Minneapolis families with an elite pre-college curriculum. The school also offered a general course of study and elementary education. Graham Hall was eventually reincorporated under a board of trustees as the Northrop Collegiate School for Girls, which, in turn, became a part of the Blake School.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Minneapolis became a national center for the arts movement known as Arts and Crafts. The city's Handicraft Guild led the way. Founded by women, the Handicraft Guild made the arts in Minneapolis more democratic and populist by offering classes like pottery and metalwork to artists and teachers.
A prime example of entrepreneurial spirit, Susie Schmitt Hanson was a pioneer for Minnesota women in business. As the owner of one of Waconia's longest-running businesses, she remains a prominent figure in the history of that town.
Mary Theresa Mehegan Hill, wife of railroad builder James J. Hill, lived in St. Paul from her arrival as a young child in 1850 until her death in 1921. She witnessed the city’s evolution from a small settlement on the Mississippi River to an important center of commerce.
After New York City schoolteacher Harriet Duncan came to Minnesota in 1868, she became an advocate for temperance and women's suffrage. She was president of the Minnesota Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for seventeen years and urged the WCTU to work on behalf of women's rights more broadly.
Elsa Laubach Jemne was a Minnesota artist active from the 1910s to the 1960s. Though skilled as an easel painter, she is better known for the murals she created for public buildings, including post offices and courthouses.
Nineteenth-century Jewish immigrants brought to Minnesota long-standing religious traditions of aiding the poor and needy. Beginning in the 1870s, German-Jewish immigrants, followed by Jews from Eastern Europe, founded an array of charitable and philanthropic groups. Women were the prime movers, though men held directors’ roles.
Nellie Stone Johnson was an African American union and civil rights leader whose career spanned the class-conscious politics of the 1930s and the liberal reforms of the Minnesota DFL Party. She believed unions and education were paths to economic security for African Americans, including women. Her self-reliant personality and pragmatic politics sustained her long and active life.
Agnes Keenan’s name is among the most prominent in the history of St. Catherine’s College—the school that became St. Catherine University. Although she was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1910, Keenan spent most of her life in St. Paul working as a teacher and community leader.