At our State Conference on March 25th we awarded Hillary Rodham Clinton our Charlotte Striebel Long Distance Runner Award. While she was unable to accept the award in person, she did send us a lovely letter in response. Click the link below to read the letter.
In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our second post in the series is about African American union and civil rights leader Nellie Stone Johnson.
Nellie Stone Johnson was born on a farm in Lakeville, MN on December 17, 1905. Her mother was trained as a teacher, though she spent much of her time working on the farm. Her father was a farmer, organizer, and a school board member in Dakota and Pine County. He helped organize the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association and was a member of the Non-Partisan League. Johnson and her family re-located to a larger farm near Hinckley when she was a teenager.
At the age of 17, Johnson left Pine County to finish her high school education by taking extension courses at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She got involved with the Young Communist League while she was a student and used some of what she learned in her later work organizing labor.
Johnson got a job as an elevator operator at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1924, but was fired several years later for labor union activities. She moved on to the West Hotel, where she worked until new owners decided that they no longer wanted to employ African Americans. She returned to the Athletic Club in 1933 and started her (official) work as a labor organizer the next year when her employer decided to cut wages.
Johnson’s life was one of many firsts, despite her assertion that she was simply “a farm gal from Minnesota”. In 1936, Johnson was elected as the vice president of her local union, the Minneapolis Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union. She was the first woman elected to that position. She was also the first woman vice president of the Minnesota Culinary Council and the first woman to serve on a national contract committee where she helped negotiate equal pay for women.
Johnson was active in the Farmer-Labor party in the 1930s and 40s and helped facilitate the merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties in 1944. She became the first African American elected to a city-wide office in Minneapolis when she won election to the Minneapolis Library Board in 1945. She helped create Minneapolis’ first Fair Employment Practices Commission, which was established by executive order by Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey in 1946, and also spearheaded passage of Minnesota’s Fair Employment and Fair Housing Laws in the 1950s.
Johnson opened her own business, Nellie’s Alterations, in Minneapolis in 1963. In 1972, she campaigned for Van White, the first African American elected to the Minneapolis City Council.
Johnson received an honorary doctorate from St. Cloud State University in 1995. She was a long-time member of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women and served on the Minnesota State University Board for eight years. She was also a member of the National Coalition of Labor Women, the National League of Women Voters, the DFL Affirmative Action Commission, and the DFL Feminist Caucus, a former board member of the Minneapolis Urban League, and recipient of the Urban League’s Cecil E. Newman Humanitarian Award.
Nellie Stone Johnson died in Minneapolis on April 2, 2002, at the age of 96.
1. Johnson, Nellie Stone, and David Brauer. Nellie Stone Johnson: the life of an activist. Saint Paul, MN: Ruminator, 2001. Print.
2. “Who was Nellie Stone Johnson?” Who was Nellie Stone Johnson? N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
3. “Johnson, Nellie Stone (1905–2002).” MNopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
4. Minnesota, Barb Kucera Workday, and RUSA Leighann Wood. “A Nellie Stone Johnson Timeline.” Workday Minnesota. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
5. “A Brief History of Civil Rights Protection in Minneaplis.” http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/convert_253586.pdf. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our first post is about political pioneer Coya Knutson.
Coya Knutson, born Cornelia Gjesdahl in 1912 on a farm in Edmore, ND, was the first woman elected to represent the State of Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives.
Knutson graduated with a degree in education from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN in 1934 and left for New York to pursue an education in opera at The Julliard School. She returned to the Midwest when her music career didn’t pan out, teaching high school classes in North Dakota and Minnesota. She married Andy Knutson in 1940 and re-located to Oklee, Minnesota, where she worked as a school teacher and helped her husband run a small hotel.
Knutson, like many other women who have run for elected office, got involved in politics through community activism. According to her House of Representatives biography, she “served as a field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, investigating issues of price support. She helped establish the Oklee Medical Clinic, a local Red Cross branch, and the Community Chest Fund.”
She joined the newly formed Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party in the 1940’s and was appointed chair of the DFL’s Red Lake County organization in 1948. The DFL encouraged her to run for the state legislature; she did so and was elected to serve in the Minnesota House in 1950. After serving two terms she decided that she wanted to run for Congress, despite opposition from DFL party leaders. She self-financed her campaign and traveled the state to talk to voters. She beat the DFL-endorsed candidate in the primary election and then went on to defeat six-term Republican incumbent Harold Hagen in the general election.
Once in Congress, she served on the Agriculture Committee and advocated for policies that helped farmers. She also advocated for funding for cystic fibrosis research and a federal student financial aid program. A bill that she wrote, which helped establish the first federal student loan program, was included in the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) that was passed in 1958.
Days after the district convention in 1958, Knutson’s husband released a letter (believed to have been written by DFLers who held a grudge against Knutson) that called on Knutson to give up her bid for re-election and return home to care for her family. The letter received considerable media attention and it, along with rumors that she was having an affair with an aide, likely helped lead to her defeat in the 1958 election.
In 1961 Knutson was appointed as the liaison officer for the Department of Defense in the Office of Civil Defense, where she served from 1961 to 1970. She divorced her alcoholic, abusive husband in 1962. She attempted to become involved in electoral politics again in 1977 but was unsuccessful.
Knutson died on October 10, 1996 at the age of 82.
Sources: Minnesota Historical Society LibGuide: “Coya Knutson: Groundbreaking Conrgresswoman.” Web address: http://libguides.mnhs.org/knutson
United States House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives. Web address: http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16457
Halloran, Liz. “The Congresswoman Whose Husband Called Her Home.” May 10, 2014. Web address: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2014/05/10/310996960/the-congresswoman-whose-husband-called-her-home
Last year was a busy one for Minnesota NOW!
In January we celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with cupcakes and feminist fun. Here’s a photo of one participant getting their “declaration of bodily autonomy” signed by a Supreme Court judge (AKA Repro Rights committee member).
In March activists attended ERAMN’s Day of Action on International Women’s Day (March 8th). Minnesota NOW also had a presence at Planned Parenthood’s annual solidarity event.
We held our state conference in April at Normandale Community College. Attendees discussed the presidential election and heard from nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood and Communities United Against Police Brutality/the Committee for Professional Policing. Awards were given to deserving MN NOW activists and new board members were elected.
Volunteers tabled at the Pride festival in June, while other Minnesota NOW activists attended the National NOW Conference and the Whole Woman’s Health rally in Washington, DC.
In August we hosted our Women’s Equality Day Happy Hour at Fabulous Fern’s. State Senator Dick Cohen stopped by to talk about state efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.
In November, Donald Trump was elected President and Republicans maintained control of Congress. The Minnesota House and Senate are now controlled by Republicans as well.
We played board games and ate yummy food at our holiday party in December.
We also hosted several activist open houses, volunteered on political campaigns, and ramped up our committee work in 2016.
This year we’re going to be playing a lot of defense. Our governor, Mark Dayton, is a pretty strong ally on most of our issues but those in power at the federal level are not. Stay tuned to our website for upcoming events and action alerts.
by Beth Anderson, MN NOW Treasurer
I’m With Hillary. Always have been. She’s a woman who has been in public life for as long as I can remember. Her issues have been my issues over the years; women’s rights, healthcare, international affairs. And now she is seeking to be the first woman President of the United States.
As a feminist and a woman in a predominantly male field, I can identify with the sexism both subtle and overt that comes with that territory. The first women who dared to enter the fields of science and engineering were punished for their ambition and interests. For many of them their work was stolen, they were under-employed and underpaid, and they faced sexual harassment in the workplace. I can tell you that some things haven’t changed that much over the last 200 years. My electrical engineering class at North Dakota State University graduated under a dozen women in 1983. Most of us have gone on to have successful careers, but we have all faced obstacles rooted in sexism. Some drop out, some change jobs, some challenge the sexism head on. It has been a struggle, though not as bad as it was a generation ago. And the reason for that is the many brave women who went before me, opening doors, demanding rights, and mentoring the next generation.
So when I see a woman actually leading us into new political territory in this country, I can’t help but smile! Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination by a major political party to be the next President of the United States fills me with pride. It has taken a long time, 240 years from that first Independence Day in 1776, to get this far.
However, you can still see the sexism at work. Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates running for President––ever. Yet she is vilified, made fun of, and scorned by so many. I sometimes think the worst sexism is the more subtle sexism that permeates our society, the damning by faint praise. We hear people say, “Well, she wasn’t my first choice, but I’ll probably vote for her because the alternative is worse.” Really? Why not “Yay! We have a qualified, woman candidate who has worked hard for our issues over the last 25 years and I can’t wait to vote for her in the next election!” If either party had produced a male candidate with Clinton’s credentials he would have been crowned nominee early in the process. That is sexism at work.
I’m not one to say that Hillary Clinton has never made a mistake. Nor will I vote for her just because she is a woman. But I do think she should be judged by the same standards you would a male candidate.
People criticize Clinton for being “dishonest.” Yet PolitiFact, a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims of politicians, has rated her the most truthful presidential candidate running in either party in 2016. If you check out her ratings compared to those of her opponent, there is no question which candidate is the more truthful in their statements. Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.
People criticize her for being paid for her speeches, particularly those given to potential constituent groups. As a person who has attended several professional conferences, I can tell you that this is normal. Celebrities, politicians, and experts in their field give speeches to all kinds of groups and are generally paid for their time. For example, in the last several years, both President Bill Clinton and Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at separate National Conferences for the DRI, an organization of Defense Attorneys. I attended both speeches and they couldn’t have been more different. I’m sure they were both paid for their time and for giving those speeches. And yet, I doubt if either Justice Scalia or President Clinton felt beholden to the members of the DRI because they received those speaking fees. Hillary Clinton is held to a different standard; that is sexism at work.
And of course there are the “scandals.” Clinton has been criticized for everything from her lack of interest in cookie baking to her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. Yet in investigation after investigation she has been cleared of wrong doing. She has been grilled by journalists, congressional members, and the FBI about everything from her relationship with her husband to her financial practices. Why does Hillary Clinton continue to be the target of scandal after scandal when there has been no evidence of wrong doing on her part? That is sexism at work.
Hillary Clinton has answered to the Senate, to Congress, and to the President of the United States. She has been a role model for women who face extra hurdles competing in a male dominated field. She conducts herself with integrity and never gives up. With all the criticism and challenges that Hillary Clinton has faced over her career, one could forgive her for quitting the field. Yet she has not.
Hillary Clinton is pushing the envelope. She has faced the challenges of sexism head on and won. She has opened doors for the next generation. Hillary Clinton is challenging the status quo and our image of what a President looks like, just like Barack Obama did. It is a privilege in our current time to have this kind of choice. For these reasons and many others, I’m with Hillary. She will forever change what is true and real for our daughters and our next generation of politicians.
This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on April 25, 2016.
Minnesota’s 2016 legislative session is well underway in St. Paul and our Legislature is discussing difficult issues like transportation funding and the copper/nickel mining prospects up north. But I want to draw your attention to a lesser-known series of bills introduced by Representative Rena Moran in the House and Senator Sandy Pappas in the Senate, addressing the educational and economic disparities of women of color in our state. Known as the Women of Color Opportunities Act (WOCOA), this legislation is designed to develop programs for women and girls of color in order to increase their economic success in our state.
The legislation consists of five bills that develop programs in key areas of education and employment and economic development. These bills are common sense ideas and programs that promote the tools that all of our young people need to succeed in our city and state. Yet these same tools have been disproportionally unavailable to women and girls of color. Here is a brief summary of the bills proposed:
- Increase academic success by decreasing the school suspension rate for girls of color, increasing on-time high school graduation rates, and encouraging girls of color to pursue post-secondary education. (HF 3031/SF 2885)
- Educate women and girls of color in financial literacy to lay the groundwork for an economically secure future. (HF 3032/SF 2865)
- Encourage girls of color to explore and pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers by funding competitive grants to community-based, STEM-affiliated organizations experienced in serving girls of color. (HF 3033/SF 2916)
- Increase the number of women of color in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs through job skills training and apprenticeships. (HF 3098/SF 3056)
- Provide small business loans and technical assistance to businesses owned by women of color. (HF 3099/SF 2931)
Here in Savage, with an 82 percent white population, you might ask, “Why should Savage care about the Women of Color Opportunities Act?” My answer is several-fold.
Increasingly our business community relies on a diverse, skilled, and educated workforce. If we hope to attract world-class businesses to Savage and the surrounding communities, we have to be able to provide a workforce that is well-trained and ready to produce. This may mean an apprenticeship in a skilled trade, it may mean a two-year college degree, or it may require an accredited four-year college degree. Any way you slice it, high school drop-outs and illiterate citizens do not cut it in today’s work force.
Our community is changing. In 2000, the city of Savage was 10 percent non-white, in 2010 we were 18 percent non-white, and 2013 estimated statistics showed Savage to be 20 percent non-white. These numbers are pretty typical at state levels, too. As our population ages, more diverse communities are following. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, younger Minnesotans are more racially diverse than older Minnesotans. There are three counties in Minnesota where the children under 5 are over 50 percent children of color. More people of color are living in Savage than ever before. This brings diversity and vibrant cultures into our local melting pot. It’s a good thing. But we in Savage must make sure that the necessary components for a successful education and successful employment are also available for this growing community.
Making sure that all of our children have the opportunity to succeed in school and at work benefits all of us. There is a bigger tax base when we are all gainfully employed and there is less reliance on government services. Statistically we have heard a lot in Minnesota about the documented employment gap between white Minnesotans and black Minnesotans — a 2013 study found that blacks were three times as likely to be unemployed as whites. And we have heard a lot about the education disparity between whites and blacks — in 2003, white Minnesotan eighth-graders topped the charts on national math tests while black Minnesotan eighth-graders came in 22nd of the 50 states. This achievement gap has been well-documented and discussed. What has not been clear is how to fix it.
Achievement gaps are often attributed to income level and home environment. Low-income families often have few educational resources. Recent immigrants don’t always have the English language skills needed to keep pace in school or the financial literacy that leads to good economic decisions. The Women of Color Opportunities Act attempts to address these resource gaps head on.
Making sure our women and girls of color graduate from high school, increase their financial literacy, pursue post-secondary education, obtain high-paying jobs, and have the tools available to start their own businesses will go a long way towards ending these disparities and making our communities a better place to live.
The bills introduced in the Women of Color Opportunities Act are administered by two departments: the Department of Education and the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The bills ask for a nominal amount of funding for pilot programs and grants to local community groups to achieve the goals of the bill. In this way, local groups who work with girls and women in the community receive the funds they need to make a difference. Reporting and oversight is at the state level and the pilot programs must be developed so they can be transferred and used throughout the state.
According to the bill’s authors, the estimated cost of this set of bills is about $4.9 million. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office is projecting a $900 million surplus in 2016. It seems to me that this small expenditure — 0.5 percent of our projected surplus — is well worth the investment in our future Minnesotans. You can ask Representative Drew Christensen and Senator Dan Hall for their support at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.