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.
Lena Olive Smith was a prominent civil rights lawyer and activist during the 1920s and 1930s. She made major contributions toward securing civil rights for minorities in the Twin Cities. Smith began fighting for the rights of others when she became the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota in 1921. She was the only African American woman to practice law in the state until 1945.
Jane Grey Swisshelm only lived in Minnesota for six years, but during that time she left a lasting mark on the state. While in St. Cloud, she founded a newspaper which she used to advocate for women's rights, argue for the abolition of slavery, build up the Republican Party, challenge the authority of the Democratic machine there, and promote violence against the Dakota.
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.
When Sybil Carter started her first lace-making classes at the White Earth Reservation, she set the stage for a major economic enterprise. In 1904, friends of Carter organized the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association to help ship and market lace made by women on reservations to East Coast consumers. The association provided a good source of income to American Indian women. However, the association also held negative views of American Indian women and excluded them from leadership roles.
For nearly two years, eight female employees of Willmar's Citizens National Bank, dubbed the Willmar 8, picketed in front of their downtown workplace seeking pay equity. They never got pay increases, they never got strike-related compensation, and after the strike, only one woman returned to work at the bank for more than a few months. But for the women's movement, the 1977-1979 strike was a resounding success. It was a chink in the armor of the institutional sexism women faced in the workplace.
In 1888, a St. Paul Globe exposé of women's working conditions penned by "Eva Gay" launched the career of Eva McDonald Valesh, a young writer. During the time that she lived in the state, Valesh left a big impression on Minnesota journalism, politics, and labor organizing.
Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark Van Cleve was the child of a military family and a crusader for the rights of disadvantaged people in Minnesota and beyond. Born during her parents' journey to help build the future Fort Snelling, she lived to see a fledgling community grow into an urban center.
Rosalie Wahl was a pioneering figure in Minnesota law during the second half of the twentieth century. She became the state's first female Supreme Court justice at a time when there were no women on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Expert Essay: Rhoda R. Gilman, a founding member of Women Historians of the Midwest and a former candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, considers the influence of women in Minnesota: the Willmar 8, the Schubert Club, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, and much more.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was sixty-five when she published Little House in the Big Woods, a novel for young readers inspired by her childhood in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Her book, and the others that followed, made her an icon of children's literature. The Little House series offered generations of children a glimpse into life on the nineteenth-century American prairie and immortalized a sod house on the banks of Minnesota's Plum Creek.
Jane Williamson was a schoolteacher and anti-slavery activist in Ohio before coming to the Presbyterian Dakota Mission at Lac qui Parle in 1843. She spent the remaining fifty-two years of her life working with the Dakota people.