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.
On July 27, 1972, two armed, masked men walked into the Orono home of Virginia Lewis Piper and walked out with the forty-nine-year-old woman handcuffed and blindfolded. The next day, her husband, Harry C. Piper Jr., a prominent Twin Cities investment banker, personally delivered a $1 million ransom to the unidentified kidnappers. Four decades later, no one has served a day of prison time for the crime. Except for about four thousand dollars in scattered twenty-dollar bills, the Pipers’ million-dollar ransom has not been recovered.
For more than seventy years, the Minnesota-based writer and activist Meridel Le Sueur was a voice for oppressed peoples worldwide. Beginning in the 1920s, she championed the struggles of workers against the capitalist economy, the efforts of women to find their voices and their power, the rights of American Indians to their lands and their cultures, and environmentalist causes.
Liang May Seen was the first woman of Chinese descent to live in Minnesota. After escaping from a brothel in San Francisco, Liang learned English, married, and moved to Minneapolis, where she was a leader in the Chinese immigrant community until her death in 1946.
Minnesota native Maud Hart Lovelace captured her Mankato childhood in her Betsy-Tacy series of thirteen books. During her career, she authored six historical novels for adults as well as five additional books for children.
Mankato-born Florence Macbeth won international acclaim as an operatic soprano during the 1910s and 1920s. Known as "the Minnesota nightingale," Macbeth made hundreds of concert and recital appearances during her career. She toured the U.S. with the Chicago Opera Company for fourteen years before retiring from singing in the 1930s.
Clara Gardner Mairs was a painter, printmaker, and decorative artist active from the 1910s to the 1960s. She is best known for her prints of children, animals, circus scenes, and Old Testament stories, often with hints of satirical humor.
In August 1872, Julia Sears (1839–1929) was hired to head the Mankato State Normal School. Upon taking the job, she became the first woman to hold such a position of power in a coeducational institution of higher learning in the United States. Her leadership challenged traditional gender roles at teachers’ colleges but led to controversy when the local school board replaced her with a man.
In 1977, residents of South Minneapolis mobilized to fight the expansion of adult entertainment businesses along Lake Street. In 1983, after years of unsuccessful protest, these activists sought help from nationally known feminist theorists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. MacKinnon and Dworkin wrote a controversial amendment to the city's expansive civil rights ordinance that defined pornography as a violation of women's civil rights.
From 1881 to 1920, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) struggled to secure women's right to vote. Its members organized marches, wrote petitions and letters, gathered signatures, gave speeches, and published pamphlets and broadsheets to force the Minnesota Legislature to recognize their right to vote. Due to their efforts, the Legislature approved the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919.
Before World War II, operating streetcars was considered a man’s job. A 1916 Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) report shows sixty-eight female employees out of a workforce of 4,300, and those few were telephone operators and clerical office workers.
The March 1963 murder of St. Paul wife and mother Carol Thompson shocked the Twin Cities as few local crimes have. Despite community fears of a homicidal maniac, investigators soon focused on T. Eugene "Cotton" Thompson, the victim’s husband, as their prime suspect. Three and a half months after the murder, Thompson was arrested and charged in connection with his wife’s death. In December 1963 he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Divorce in Minnesota's nineteenth century Norwegian-Lutheran community was a rarity. Legal separation between a leading pastor and his wife was unheard of. But an 1879 court case in Holden Township led to both those outcomes, and triggered a public debate about married women's legal rights.
Ruth A. Myers was known as the “grandmother of American Indian education in Minnesota.” A persistent voice for American Indian children and their families, Myers focused on education policy as well as learning opportunities for American Indian children. She also produced curriculum and resource materials that reflected American Indian history and culture for all Minnesota learners.
Following the death of her husband and their only child, Julia Bullard Nelson of Red Wing, Minnesota headed south to Texas in 1869 to teach African Americans in U.S. government-backed Freedmen's Bureau schools. Nelson spent the summers of the 1870s and 1880s in Minnesota, where she emerged as a state and national leader in the movement for women's suffrage and the temperance campaign against alcohol use.
Multi-talented artist, designer, teacher, and author Henrietta Barclay Paist is perhaps best known for her china painting, a popular turn-of-the-century pastime. Born in Red Wing in 1870, she studied ceramics in Germany, watercolor painting in Minneapolis, and design in Chicago before settling in the Twin Cities.
Writer and activist Irene Levine Paull was born in Duluth to Jewish parents. Faced with discrimination because of her ethnicity, gender, and political views, Paull fought for the rights of people who were oppressed.
Mother Benedicta (Sybilla) Riepp was the founder of the Roman Catholic Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict in North America. During her time as Superior of the first foundation in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, she sent a group of Sisters to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they began a new convent. This group moved to St. Joseph in 1863. By 1946, Saint Benedict’s Monastery was the largest community of Benedictine Sisters in the world.
Dr. Martha Ripley was an early advocate for women's health and welfare. She and her family moved to Minneapolis in 1883, just after she completed medical training at Boston University School of Medicine.
Florence Rood was one of the first Minnesota women activists in the Farmer Labor movement. She worked to improve the treatment of teachers and was active in their local and national organizations. Many of the successful struggles in which she participated informed the public of the importance of education and laid the groundwork for improved working conditions for educators.
One of the first female professors in the United States, Maria Sanford was an English professor at the University of Minnesota for nearly thirty years. Her exceptional teaching, notable public lectures, and active community leadership led many to call her "the best loved woman in Minnesota."
Raised in a large Catholic family in North Minneapolis, Hilda Simms became a national celebrity for her leading role in the first all-black performance of the Broadway show Anna Lucasta. Frustrated by her struggling career and the lack of roles for black actors, Simms worked as the creative director for the New York State Human Rights Commission to address racial discrimination in the entertainment industry.
In 1851 Bishop Joseph Cretin needed help to preach the Catholic faith to the growing St. Paul community. In July of that year he asked the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Missouri to assist him. Mother St. John Fournier and three Catholic sisters traveled to the city in the fall and quickly influenced the health and welfare of the region.
Alice Gustava Smith, better known by her students and readers as Sister Maris Stella, taught English at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in St. Paul for nearly fifty years. During that time she also published books of verse that built her reputation as a skilled and spiritual poet.