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.
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.
Marcenia Lyle (Toni "Tomboy") Stone broke both gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female professional baseball player in the Negro Major League. During her career, she played with a variety of men's teams before making history when she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Major League Team.
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.
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.
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.