March is Women’s History Month

Her Honor

 

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which legalized a woman’s right to vote.  In Minnesota, 1922 was the first year that women could run for office in the Minnesota legislature, and four of the eight women candidates who ran for office won.  In the book Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement author Lori Sturdevant provides intriguing and interesting facts about the twentieth century women’s movement in Minnesota:

  • The Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association agitated for the full enfranchisement of women for forty years before achieving success.  The organization morphed into the Minnesota League of Women Voters.
  • Cornelia “Coya” Gjesdal Knutson—12 years Rosalie’s senior—was born on a farm in North Dakota.  Despite family struggles, she rose to political significance by financing her own campaign for election to the U.S. Congress, which she won in 1954, becoming the first woman in Minnesota to do so.  Sadly, her 1958 re-election bid failed due to false statements made about her family life and troubled marriage—attributed to her DFL colleagues and husband.  Coya Knutson was a victim of the inherent sexism of her time.
  • Rosalie Wahl went to law school by financing her own way; her family was well-established by then, and yet she gave birth to a fifth child while in law school.  Overcoming many obstacles, defeats, and triumphs, Rosalie became the first woman justice appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1977.  Her appointment came amidst Minnesota’s politically active feminists maneuvering for political office.
  • After her appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Justice Wahl “viewed her role as helping her colleagues see justice from the bottom up—that is, from the vantage not only of women, but also of disadvantaged people of all kinds, including those accused of serious crimes.”  In 1987, the “Minnesota Supreme Court Task Force for Gender Fairness in the Courts” was established; it was headed by Justice Wahl.
  • Justice Wahl retired from the supreme court on August 31, 1994.  She involved herself in community service, including leadership training for young women.  She lived to see more women take on leadership roles in Minnesota: Kathleen Blatz was elevated to first woman Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Amy Klobuchar was elected Minnesota’s first woman U.S. Senator; and DFLer Betty McCollum was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since voters sent representative Coya Knutson home in 1958.

Her Honor:  Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement is available for check-out from the Ramsey County Law Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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