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Knutson, Cornelia Genevive "Coya"

House 1951-54 (District 65)

Party when first elected:  Nonpartisan Election-Liberal Caucus

Counties Served:  Clearwater, Pennington, Red Lake

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Date of Birth: 8/22/1912
Birth Place: Edmore, North Dakota
Birth County: Ramsey
Birth Country: United States
Date of Death: 10/10/1996
Gender: Female
Religion: Lutheran
Other Names: Coya
Former Name: Gjesdal
City of Residence (when first elected): Oklee
Occupation (when first elected): Teacher/Hotel and Cafe Operator, Oklee, Minnesota

EDUCATION

Edmore Public Schools, North Dakota; Elementary School;
Edmore Public Schools, North Dakota; Secondary; Graduate, 1930
Concordia College, Moorhead; B.A.; Education (Music/English), 1934
Julliard School of Music, New York City, New York; Attended Graduate School; Opera
State Teachers College, Moorhead; Attended Graduate School; Library Science

OTHER GOVERNMENT SERVICE

County Government: Red Lake County, Minnesota (Agricultural Adjustment Committee, Agent); 1941 to 1944
County Board/Commissioner: Red Lake County, Minnesota (Welfare Board); 1948 to 1950
U.S. Representative: 9th Congressional District, Minnesota; 01/03/1955 to 01/03/1959 [Elected]
U.S. Executive Branch: United States Department of Defense, Civil Defense Agency, Pentagon, Washington D.C.; 196? to 1970

FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS

Spouse: Andy Knutson (married on March 21, 1940; divorced in 1962; he died in 1969 of acute alcohol poisoning)
Children: One child: Terrance "Terry" (adopted son)
Family Members Who Have Served in the Minnesota Legislature:

GENERAL NOTES

She was of Norwegian ancestry.

She was born on a farm near Edmore, North Dakota.

She was a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. (Minnesota Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women)

She was the first female from Minnesota to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

She ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives in the 1958 and 1960 elections.

She was the only Democrat in the United States House of Representatives to lose to a Republican in the 1958 election. The upset came after her husband urged her to leave Congress. Headlines around the U.S. featured his plea: "Coya, Come Home." The Knutson's were later divorced. (Coya Knutson, New York Times, December 26, 1976)

She was an unsuccessful candidate for nomination to the United States House of Representatives in a February 8, 1977 special election primary.

She was a member of Mu Phi Epsilon National Musical Sorority.

She died from kidney failure at the Edina Care Center nursing home in Minnesota.

She was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Oklee, Minnesota.

Religion provided by Current Biography, March 1956.

Total Days Served: 1463

SESSIONS SERVED

58th Legislative Session (1953-1954)

  Session Details
Body: House
District: 65
Elected: 11/5/1952
Residence: Oklee
Term of Office: 1/6/1953 to 1/3/1955
Counties Represented: Clearwater, Pennington, Red Lake
Occupation: Teacher/Hotel Operator
Party: Nonpartisan Election-Liberal Caucus Party Notes: She was a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. (Minnesota Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women)
Committees:
  • Elections
  • Health
  • Towns and Counties
  • University
  • Welfare

57th Legislative Session (1951-1952)

  Session Details
Body: House
District: 65
Elected: 11/7/1950
Residence: Oklee
Term of Office: 1/2/1951 to 1/5/1953
Counties Represented: Clearwater, Pennington, Red Lake
Occupation: Teacher/Hotel and Cafe Operator, Oklee, Minnesota
Party: Nonpartisan Election-Liberal Caucus Party Notes: She was a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. (Minnesota Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women)
Committees:
  • Cooperatives
  • Elections
  • Public Institutions
  • Reapportionment
  • University
Video
Women Making Change (Documentary). Minnesota: Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) and American Association of University Women, Red Wing Branch, Original Broadcast Date: September 25, 2011. (Video) 2011 - "Stories of vision and courage from women in Minnesota politics over the past century, leading and inspiring others." Includes former legislators Coya Knutson, Joan Growe, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sandy Wollschlager, and Laura Brod (mentions Mee Moua).


Articles & Books About
Stuhler, Barbara and Gretchen Kreuter. "Women Legislators: Coya Knutson." Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998, p. 265-267.

"Coya Knutson, Minnesota's Only Woman Elected to Congress, Dies (Obituary)." St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 12, 1996, p. 1B, 8B.

Anderson, Kendall. "First Minnesota Congresswoman Faced Tough Test." Session Weekly, St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives Information Office, March 29, 1996, p. 25.

Beito, Gretchen Urnes. "Coya Come Home: a Congresswoman's Journey." Los Angeles, CA: Pomegranate Press, Ltd., 1990.

Beito, Gretchen. The Constituency of Coya Knutson, 1954. Fargo: University of North Dakota, 1982.

Chamberlin, Hope. A Minority of Members: Women in the U.S. Congress. New York: Praeger, 1973.

"Coya Knutson." Current Biography. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1956.

Coya Knutson. Minnesota Historical Society's "History Topics."

Knutson, Coya Gjesdal. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.