Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Nellie Stone Johnson

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.

Looking Back on 2016, Moving Forward in 2017

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.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing
Michelle Gross from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Committee for Professional Policing talks about police brutality and accountability

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.

Gender Roles: What, Why, and How

This post was written by Colleen, a high school student and new Minnesota NOW volunteer.

Gender roles, defined as “a set of societal norms dictating what types of behaviors are generally considered acceptable, appropriate or desirable for a person based on their actual or perceived sex,” can be found anywhere and everywhere. The concept of gender roles has been around for a loooooong time, beginning with anthropological data of cavemen/women sticking to their pre-ordained duties – hunting for men, housekeeping for women. Fast forward a bit to the Middle Ages when girls prepared to be married off to much older men knowing that the rest of their (most likely short) lives would be dedicated to giving birth, hopefully to sons. Then, of course, the lovely “cult of domesticity” ideal developed in the 1800s, followed by the push against women working outside of the home (because who, then, would cook and clean? M-men?! GASP!).

In today’s society, many people think that feminism is no longer necessary and that gender roles are either a) a thing of the past or b) something rather inconsequential. Gender roles are ubiquitous, widely accepted by many people, and can be detrimental. Gender roles promote heteronormativity (assuming everyone identifies as heterosexual or “straight”) and cisnormativity (assuming everyone identifies with their biologically-assigned sex). Promoting these ideas may seem inconsequential on the surface, but they strengthen institutionalized homogeneity that creates feelings of dissonance in those who identify outside of what is considered “normal.” This leads to an undermining of diversity in all areas that is costly for both the individual and society.

One example of gender roles in action happened just the other day. A few girls in my physics class were discussing Polly Pocket toys they played with in their youth and my teacher asked what those toys were, claiming ignorance because “I’m a boy- I don’t play with dolls.” I was shocked– here was a grown man, using the “I’m a boy” excuse.

Another more global example of gender roles can be seen walking down the toy aisle at your local big box store. The boys’ toys are generally constructed with materials in more masculine colors like blues, reds, and blacks, and showcase “tough” toys like construction trucks, swords, and war-simulating board games. The girls’ options are often pink, sparkly, and affiliated with either princesses or domestic tasks (i.e. play stoves/ovens, baby dolls with fake bottles and diaper kits, etc.). The gender roles reflected in kids’ toys are only the beginning, though – the packaging and advertising of products for adults often reflect stereotypical gender roles as well.

Gender roles are reflected in the common assumption that women will be the ones to quit their jobs upon having a child(ren), in Father’s Day commercials promoting grills and toolboxes, and in the gender-based labeling of myriads of products.  They’re reflected in decisions about who pays for dinner on a date and what boys and girls say they want to be when they grow up. For example, a study done by Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde at UW-Madison showed that when the participants were told that their sex wouldn’t be identified, women exhibited more aggression than men. This shows that gender roles are not innate or pre-programmed; they are taught and conditioned by society. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, girls loving to bake and plays with dolls boys playing with trucks are not bad things. Neither is a guy treating his date to dinner or a woman choosing to stay home with her kids.  What makes gender roles an issue is when they become rigid– which they so often do. It’s detrimental to stop a boy from making cookies with an Easy-Bake Oven “because he’s a boy” or to tell a girl not to play kickball with the boys because its “unladylike.” Women should of course stay at home with their children if that is what they want to do– but not because they feel pressured to do so. One of my best friends was raised by a stay-at-home dad while her mother is a high-level and very successful businesswoman; conversely, my mom chose to be a homemaker and has dedicated the past 30 years to raising four kids while my father worked. Both of these choices are valid– because they are choices and reflect personal fulfillment rather than compliance with societal-designated norms.

Gender roles confine and assume. The roles which should be promoted are those that promote the individual pursuit of happiness, not related to one’s gender/sexuality but to one’s personal passions and vocations. Define your own roles – let the boy wear pink shoes and the girl play football; promote people roles instead. Yay inclusivity! 🙂

A Letter from the President-What Will the New Year Bring?

Today marks the first day of the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session, and Minnesota NOW would like to accomplish so many things, including:

  • Pass the CHEER (Contraceptive Health Equity and Employee Rights) Act. The CHEER Act will prevent companies in Minnesota from discriminating against their female employees by denying them preventive health care;
  • Pass science-based and sex-positive sex education legislation;
  • Defund Crisis Pregnancy Clinics, who provide misleading, incomplete, and inaccurate information to pregnant women in need;
  • Pass Sick and Safe Leave legislation;
  • Pass Equal Rights Amendment legislation in Minnesota and put the vote before the people;
  • Revise the language in the MN Human Rights statute to be more inclusive and provide greater protections, in particular for LGBTQIA and people of color;
  • Support passage of a $15 Minimum Wage;
  • Ensure adequate funding for prevention of sexual assault and human trafficking.

I wish that I could be optimistic about achieving these goals, but given the make-up of this new legislature, it is more realistic that we will provide the best possible defense to those who would roll back our hard-fought rights in our six core issues: Constitutional Equality, Racial Justice, Reproductive Rights, LGBTQIA Rights, Economic Justice, and Freedom from Violence.

Do not think that this means we have become timid. We will continue to push the envelope and fight not just for what is easy, but for what is right. We will continue to build our coalitions and recruit more activists to join our feminist horde.

In solidarity,

Beth Johnson, President of Minnesota NOW                                                                   Organize-best defense is a good offense


By Beth Anderson, Minnesota NOW Fundraising Chair


You have no doubt heard about our Technology Fundraising Drive, or as I like to call it the “Two-Dixie-Cups-and-a-String Initiative.”

What?  You heard “Two Risky Pups In A Sling?”  My point exactly.

Our technology at the Minnesota NOW office is so old Aunt Bea could operate it.  Our kindly donated ancient computers have crashed, and our state-of-the-century printer has lost all of her movable typeset Rs, and our publishing software relies on a T-square and pencil.  So this year’s annual appeal has been focused like a laser beam on TECHNOLOGY.

Where is this browser’s “back” button, Sally?

Blue tooth? iPads? Droids? Sounds like my medicine cabinet!  And don’t get me started on these little devices we carry to keep in constant contact with our 20,000 closest friends.  I’ve actually been known to talk to the person across the table from me at dinner, but I’m old fashioned.

None-the-less, even I am willing to make some changes if it makes us more effective and efficient in bringing equality to Minnesota.  I want to be able to organize with a click of a button and this means new computers with adequate memory.

I want to receive up-to-the-second feminist analysis on the events of the day.  This means new software to communicate with our members.

I want to reach out to young activists, this means meeting them on their turf: on Facebook and in the Blogosphere.

(I picked those words up from my niece, a young activist who knows.)

I want to improve the position of Minnesota NOW so we aren’t relying on staff and volunteers to provide their own computer equipment.   I want our volunteers to spend more time fighting for equality and less time fighting the software.

This didn’t happen to Susan B. Anthony…

So I have put my money where my mouth is.  I clicked a button for Minnesota NOW.

Will you join me?  Point your browser to www.mnnow.org and click on the purple button labeled 2012 Appeal / Resources For Equality.  Punch in your numbers and please give generously.

Because when it comes to activism, Two Pups In A Sling is so 48K.

Announcing the 2012 Minnesota & Prairie States Regional NOW Conference!

equality symbol

Equality For All

March On! Poster

Zoe Nicholson
Zoe Nicholson
Equality Activist
Equality Activist, author, speaker. Zoe shares her story and insights about the life of an activist. From civil rights, the ERA and LGBT, Zoe has fasted, marched, organized and rallied for social justice. She is a member of the ERA Roundtable, a life-long member of NOW and proud member of the Veteran Feminists of America.In 1982, she joined six women in Springfield, Illinois in a public and political fast for 37 days in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her memoir is The Hungry Heart ~ A Women’s Fast for Justice, Lune Soleil Press.
More About Zoe..
Equality Activist, Author, Speaker
Online With Zoe
Zoe On Facebook
Registration Information 
Full buffet lunch & morning food & beverages included in all registrations.
Register Online

Mail-in Registration

$50 Regular Registration
$65 Join NOW Special
(Includes $15 reduced dues for new & lapsed members.)
$25 Special Student Rate* *(Please email us your request for a Scholarship.)
$25+ Current NOW Member
Limited Income Option*
*Per NOW Bylaws, currentNOW members may “pay what they can afford.”  Though the registration fee is waived, we must require all attendees to pay at least $25 to cover the inclusive full buffet lunch and snacks.
$10 Feminist Fun Night Ticket*
Friday Event Open To Public

 While we appreciate if you can do so to help out MN NOW, pre-registered Sat. conference attendees who pay the full $50 registration arenot required to purchase a separate ticket for Friday night.  You do need to indicate on your conference registration if you do or do not plan to attend Friday night so we can  plan accordingly.  Thank you!

Minnesota NOW Annual Conference
Prairie States Regional Conference
Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oak Ridge Conference Center & Hotel
1 Oak Ridge Drive, Chaska, MN 55318


Friday Feminist Fun Night
March On! Movie
Special Guest
Zoe Nicholson, Equality Activist


Click Here Adobe icon
For Spring 2012 MN NOW Times
Easily Print or Forward
More Event & Conference Information
Includes “Call to Conference”
Mail-in Registration Form

Award Nominations
Submission Deadline: April 1st


     With the relentless push of a conservative agenda Nationally and across the country, including right here in Minnesota, INequalityit is jumping out all around us,  It’s time to Unite, Take Action, Speak Out and Stop the “crazy train” before it derails with all of us still sitting in our seats. 
Let’s bring Equality for All back into the political equation.


Get in Bed with Equality ~
Friday Schedule:

7:00 pm Screening of March On! Movie
Pajamas are optional attire but certainly welcomed.:}
9:00 pm Commentary/Q&A with Zoe Nicholson

Wake Up to Equality 
Saturday Schedule:
8:15-8:45 am Registration/Silent Auction Opens
8:45-9:10 Welcome and Opening Plenary
9:10-9:50 Workshop:
Using Social Media to Advance your Cause – The Basics and Beyond
9:50-10:00 Break/Silent Auction Bidding
10:00-10:50 Moving Marriage Equality Forward — Richard Carlbom, Campaign Director
Minnesotans United for All Families
10:50-11:25 Scott Dibble and Karen Clark – Serving in the Legislature as openly gay public servants
11:30-12:30 Full Lunch Buffet, Season’s Restaurant
– Oak Ridge Conference Center
Awards Ceremony: Feminist of the Year Award, Charlotte Striebel Long Distance Runner Award
12:45-2:15 Keynote Speaker: Zoe Nicholson
-The Life of An Activist

2:15-2:30 Break/At-large Member Breakout to Elect State Board & National delegates (if applicable)
2:30-3:30 Workshop:
Women Claiming, Owning, Exercising and Sharing Power 
3:30-4:10 State Business (Plenary)
4:10-4:30 Announcement of Silent Auction Winners
4:30-5:30 Regional Business
5:30-5:45 Closing Comments

Get Down with Equality ~
Saturday Night
No scheduled activities, but if you stick around there’s sure to be brilliant conversation, merry-making and an energizing feel good vibe as we celebrate another successful year of activism. 

Minnesota NOW logo

Richard Carlbom
Richard Carlbom
Campaign Manager
Minnesotans United For All Families
“I am honored to lead this incredibly broad and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals. We will defeat this amendment by remaining united and focused on victory in 2012,” said Richard Carlbom.

Richard Carlbom is the Campaign Manager forMinnesotans United for All Families, the official campaign that will defeat the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Before joining the campaign in September, Richard was Communications Director for Chris Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul. He also managed the successful 2010 re-election campaign of U.S. Representative, Tim Walz.

A 2004 graduate of Saint John’s, Carlbom served as the mayor of St. Joseph, MN from 2005-2007.  He was elected when he was 23.

Link to Minnesotans United for All Familites website 
Hotel Accommodations
MN NOW Group Rates
(Sales Tax Not Included)
$89 Regular Room Rate
(Applies to guest rooms with 1 queen bed or 2 double beds.
$189 Junior Suite
$209 Executive Suite
$10 per additional guest applies
You may register directly with Oak Ridge online or by calling the hotel toll free at 1-877-874-6772.  Please use the Group CodeMNNOW.  Note:  Use this “RESERVATIONS” link which is also found in the upper right corner of Oak Ridge HotelHome Page.
Minnesota NOW group rate applies to Friday, 4/13 and Saturday, 4/14. The Group Rate is guaranteed through March 23rd. After March 23rd you should make your reservation by phone to request the “MNNOW” Group Rate. Depending on availability, you may still be given the Group Rate.

About Oak Ridge

Everyone enjoyed Oak Ridge so much last year, we decided it was the perfect venue to host a dual State and Regional Conference.  Please check out their web site to see all that Oak Ridge offers. 

MN National Organization for Women, Inc. – 550 Rice St. #102 – St. Paul, MN 55103-2116

Why Minnesota NOW is co-sponsoring SlutWalk Minneapolis

As some of you may know, the Minnesota NOW State Board recently voted to co-sponsor an event called SlutWalk Minneapolis, to be held on October 1, 2011.  For a quick primer on the global SlutWalk movement, allow me to quote from a column I wrote on the subject that appears in this month’s issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press:

“…in January of 2011, a Toronto police officer named Michael Sanguinetti told a group of college students that ‘women should avoid looking like sluts in order not to be victimized.’  What began as a grassroots plan to protest the police attracted widespread attention (due in no small part to the action’s purposely confrontational name), and an estimated 1500 people gathered on April 3, 2011 to raise awareness of sexual stereotypes and the persistence of victim-blaming in Canadian society.  Since then, SlutWalks have been replicated in London, Stockholm, and Sao Paulo, with walks in the works in Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.”

Since one of Minnesota NOW’s core values is freedom from violence, our participation in an event whose goal is to end the silence about rape culture seemed natural.  After all, Minnesota NOW has participated in Take Back the Night marches and sexual violence speak-outs of many different kinds in the past.

Yet there remains a great deal of controversy over the prominent use of the word “slut” in conjunction with a feminist event.  Perhaps the most widely read essay on the subject, a piece by Rebecca Traister with the blunt title “Ladies, We Have a Problem,” appeared in the New York Times Magazine on July 20, 2011.  Many in our own local feminist community have raised vocal objections to the event, with criticisms ranging from offense to the name, to concern that walkers will be subject to harassment.

I assure you, our members and supporters, that the decision to participate in this event was not made lightly.  We take your membership dues and additional financial support very seriously.  We met directly with the director of SlutWalk Minneapolis, Kimberia Sherva, and considered the issue before a full meeting of the State Board.  We concluded that the SlutWalk movement was an important part of reframing the societal discussion around sexual violence.  For too long, the message has remained “here’s what to do to not get raped.”  It’s time that changed to “DON’T RAPE.”

I thank you for your continued support of Minnesota NOW, and I hope to see you on the Minneapolis riverfront on October 1.

For equality,

Shannon Drury

Minnesota NOW President