Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Title Page, Copyright
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"I never saw a woman judge,” Rosalie Wahl once said. “I never had a
chance to practice in front of one.”
These are remarkable words to come from the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court. But what’s truly remarkable is that this reality never fazed Rosalie Wahl. For Rosalie, the lack of any women...
Introduction and Acknowledgments
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Rosalie Wahl’s story is inseparably intertwined with that of Minnesota’s mid-twentieth-century women’s movement. The same might be said of any number of her contemporaries. These women were born when votes for women were new in America, and the feminist spirit that engineered the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S...
Chapter One: Among Sturdy Women
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Rural living in America’s broad midsection in the 1920s and 1930s tempered the women who survived it. The time and place required that women of the Dust Bowl combine intelligence, adaptability, and grit to keep homes and farms functional and families intact through bad weather and worse markets, poorly understood disease, and heartbreaking...
Chapter Two: Feminism's Price
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Despite its latter-day reputation for progressive politics, the Minnesota to which Rosalie came was not in the vanguard of American feminism. It never had been. The New England egalitarianism, Scandinavian communitarianism, and pioneer pragmatism that created the state’s culture in the nineteenth century included strains of thought that...
Chapter Three: More Useful
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In later years, Rosalie frequently described the feminist epiphany that came to her while sitting in frustration outside a closed meeting of the all-male Washington County Board in Stillwater, Minnesota. The year was 1960, give or take a few months, and the issue was libraries...
Chapter Four: "Libbers" and "Legalists"
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Even Minnesotans who spent years striving to open doors for women strain in hindsight to see exactly what made those doors budge in the early 1970s. They see not a single charismatic leader or pivotal moment, but a sudden, simultaneous emergence of a number of leaders, networks, and events. It was the same nationally. “It seemed that overnight, ...
Chapter Five: Ready to Soar
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"Could I be a judge?” Gently but persistently, that question bubbled inside Rosalie at gatherings of the DFL Feminist Caucus, which she joined not long after its formation in 1973. Electing pro-choice women to the legislature and statewide executive offices was the new group’s highest priority, but its members spoke often about their desire for more...
Chapter Six: Wahl for Justice
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"I just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time in history,” Rosalie told a Minneapolis reporter shortly after the tumult at the St. Cloud State University arena had died down. At that triumphant moment and always thereafter, she assigned credit for her professional success to lucky timing and the assistance of others, especially other...
Chapter Seven: Seeking Systemic Change
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Minnesota feminists were euphoric about Rosalie’s landslide victory, but the rest of the 1978 election results were deflating, particularly to DFLers. Governor Rudy Perpich was unseated by Independent-Republican (IR) Al Quie, who had represented southeastern Minnesota in the U.S. House for nearly eleven terms. The DFL governor of whom...
Chapter Eight: Gender Justice
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Women in the judiciary “have the exhilarating sense of making history,” Rosalie told an audience in the mid-1980s. That sense was alive not only in the Minnesota judiciary, but also the legislative and the executive branches. Rudy Perpich returned to the governor’s office in January 1983 and brought with him Marlene Johnson as the state’s first...
Chapter Nine: Never Discouraged, Never Done
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Six months after the Gender Fairness Task Force’s report was released, Rosalie sat down with Norma Wikler, her law clerk Laura Kadwell, and a tape recorder. They were conducting what Norma called “fireside chats,” with the intended audiences of gender fairness analysts in other states and future historians. Rosalie could have launched into a litany of...
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Publication Year: 2014