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Minnesota Women's Legislative Timeline

Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage
(1919-2014)

1919 - Suffrage in Minnesota and the U.S., 1919-1920 

Synopsis: In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution received approval from three-fifths of the states and the right to vote was extended to women. Minnesota was the 15th state to ratify the amendment, in 1919 (Laws 1919, First Special Session, Resolution 1).

Legislative History: The text of the 19th amendment reads: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. It was originally written by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and introduced in 1878 but did not pass out of the U.S. Congress until 1919. To achieve passage of the amendment before the 1920 elections, President Wilson put his muscle behind the amendment and, in June 1919, it narrowly passed. It then went to the states for ratification, which happened in short order by June 1920.

When the US Congress sent the amendment to the states for ratification, Wisconsin was the first state to ratify in June 1919. Minnesota was the 15th state to ratify the so-called 'Anthony Amendment,' receiving approval from both the House and Senate on the first day of a special session on September 8, 1919. In 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify and the amendment achieved the three-fifths state approval required for a Constitutional amendment. Interestingly, nine states did not officially ratify the 19th Amendment until well after the 1920s, with Mississippi being the last to ratify -- in 1984.

Historical Context: In 1881, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) was founded in Hastings. Prior to 1881, the campaign for suffrage in Minnesota was splintered and loosely organized, yet advances were made. In 1875 a constitutional amendment passed that allowed Minnesota women the right to vote in school elections (Laws 1875, Chapter 2). But two years later, a temperance-related suffrage constitutional amendment was defeated (Laws 1877, Chapter 2). That amendment proposed that women could vote on a 'question of selling, or restraining the sale, or licensing the selling, or the manufacture of intoxicating liquors.' In 1877, an interesting clarification of election law was passed by the Legislature, requiring separate ballots and separate ballot boxes for women voting in local elections, as they could only vote for 'officers of public schools' but not other officers of the village or city (Laws 1877, Chapter 74, Sec. 14).

As the national movement for suffrage gained strength, so did Minnesota's movement for suffrage. Minnesota suffragists began to use new tactics such as parades, rallies, advertising, and promotional tours in newly purchased automobiles. They even had female stunt pilots put on aerial shows in support of suffrage. Clara Ueland served as MWSA President from 1914-1919, when the suffrage campaign in Minnesota gained significant momentum. In 1919, the Legislature passed a law allowing women to vote for presidential electors (Laws 1919, Chapter 89), and later in the year ratified the national amendment ensuring universal suffrage. Other prominent organizers for suffrage in Minnesota included Sarah Burger Stearns, Julia Bullard Nelson, Ethel Edgerton Hurd, Emily Haskell Bright, Bertha Berglin Moller, Emily Gilman Noyes, and Nellie Griswold Francis.

Though suffrage granted all women in the United States the right to vote, certain populations were not allowed to become full citizens which denied the women of these populations the right to vote. For example, Native Americans were not granted citizenship until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. And despite passage of that law, states still could decide whether or not Native Americans could vote.

Selected Resources
Stuhler, Barbara. 'Organizing for the Vote: Leaders of Minnesota's Woman Suffrage Movement.' Minnesota History, Fall, 1995, p. 291-303.

Grassroots Women's Organizations: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association Records, 1894-1923. Bethesda, MD: Lexis Nexis. This is a reel index to the extensive microform collections of suffrage materials at the Minnesota Historical Society.


1921 - Women Jurors 

Synopsis: In 1921, Minnesota eliminated all gender qualification from jury service. (Laws 1921, Chapter 365)

Legislative History: Trial by jury, as an idea, dates back to the Magna Carta in 1215, which specifies that only men could be jurors. While a few American states allowed females on juries before women's suffrage, most did not. The approach of states to the issue of female jurors was varied. Some states allowed women on juries, ipso facto, along with suffrage. Other states required a constitutional amendment to change the law.

Most states, including Minnesota, used the legislative process to add women to the pool of potential jurors. Minnesota was one of a group of eight states that promptly passed female juror laws after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. In 1921, Minnesota passed a law allowing women to act as petit jurors and grand jurors; it stated that all jury laws apply to both men and women and 'all sex qualification is hereby removed.'

However, many legislators felt women should not be required to serve in all cases. Senator Harlow Bonniwell was quoted in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune,'I have too high a regard for the women of Minnesota to use my vote in this Senate to force them to sit in court and listen to the filth that often is served up in testimony and then be locked up in a room with a lot of men to discuss such a mess of nastiness.' A law was passed allowing the court the discretion to excuse women from jury duty upon request. (Laws 1921, Chapter 370)

A third 1921 law allowed the courts to appoint a female bailiff when juries of both men and women were chosen. (Laws 1921, Chapter 369)

Historical Context: Jury service was one of the first big tests of women's newfound strength after the Nineteenth Amendment was enacted in 1920. Although you might assume that the right to serve on juries would have come automatically with the right to vote, this was not the case in most states. While Utah was the first state to allow limited jury service for women, in 1898, states such as Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Florida did not permit females to serve on juries until the mid-1950s-1960s. In 1968, the Federal Jury Selection Act prohibited discrimination in jury service on the basis of gender, and in 1975, the US Supreme Court overturned its own 1961 ruling (in Hoyt v. FL) which upheld the right of Florida to require women to essentially request permission to serve on juries. The thoughts behind excluding women from jury service included: taking women away from their small children would be detrimental to the children; women might be more sympathetic and tender-hearted toward criminals; women on juries posed practical problems when it came to sequestration; and women should be shielded from the 'salacious and revolting' cases dealing with sex offenses.

Selected Resources
Matthews, Burnita Shelton, 'The Woman Juror.' Women's Law Journal, Volume 15, Number 2, April 1927. Includes comments from the Minnesota Attorney General on women jurors.

Nipp. Mary. Blackduck History 1920-1940. LakesnWoods.com: A Guide to Minnesota Communities. Includes an excerpt from the Blackduck American newspaper, 'January 1922: At the February term of court Beltrami County women will take their place with the men both as grand and petit jurors. Mrs. H.E. Douglas of the village has the distinction of being the first woman drawn on the grand jury.'

'Senate Agrees to Pass Woman Jury Measure,' Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 8, 1921. (Proquest link)


1923 - Protective Labor Laws 

Synopsis: In 1923, the state of Minnesota enacted legislation designed to limit the number of hours women could engage in paid labor. (Laws 1923, Chapter 422)

Legislative History: In 1923, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation designed to protect women and children from unscrupulous employers and from the rigors of constant manual labor. The law limited the number of hours women could work to no more than 9.5 hours per day or 54 hours per week. The law didn't apply to live-in maids. This law was refined many times over the next several decades. For example, in 1933 a law deleted the restriction on the number of hours a woman could work per day, yet retained the weekly limit of 54 hours. Among other changes, it exempted women 'engaged in the seasonal occupation of preserving perishable fruits, grains, and vegetables.' (Laws 1933, Chapter 354) These laws were representative of the tension between groups of women who wanted protections and exemptions in labor laws, and other groups of women who wanted pure equality and opportunity in labor.

Historical Context: Although the passage of the 19th Amendment prohibited discrimination in voting, many suffragists feared that women could and would still be discriminated against in other areas of their lives. In 1921, suffragist Alice Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment, nicknamed the 'Lucretia Mott Amendment,' in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. The amendment proposed equality for men and women in all legal matters. At the same time, other feminist leaders and legislators were enacting laws that prohibited women from working beyond a set number of hours per week or day. Intended to protect women from sweatshop conditions and lower pay, these laws were in direct conflict with those people who argued instead for equality in all matters. The newly formed League of Women Voters (formerly the National American Women Suffrage Association) strongly lobbied against the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that it would invalidate protective labor laws for women. The stalemate between these two groups of feminists on the issue of protective labor laws for women lasted several decades. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act provided federal protection for both sexes, but by then gender-specific labor laws were widespread. Supporters of these laws argued women needed to be protected from exploitation. Opponents felt that they protected men from female competition. These laws kept women out of jobs requiring overtime or heavy lifting. During War World II protective labor laws were suspended to allow women to work in war industries, and reimposed after the war when some women were forced to leave their jobs.


1973 - Minnesota Human Rights Act 

Synopsis: In 1973, Minnesota passed amendments to its human rights law to prohibit discrimination against women in employment, housing, public accommodations, public service and education. (Laws 1973, Chapter 729)

Legislative History: The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) was renamed in the 1973 legislation. It was formerly known as the Minnesota State Act Against Discrimination (MSAAD). The MHRA, now codified in Chapter 363A of Minnesota Statutes, prohibits all forms of illegal discrimination across a spectrum of groups and in different areas of the economy, except where there is a bona fide occupational requirement.

Amendments to Minnesota human rights law affecting women were added incrementally. In 1969, MSAAD was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in employment. (Laws 1969, Chapter 975) This was a huge milestone for women in Minnesota; in fact, Minnesota's law went beyond federal law in that it required anyone employing one or more workers to comply with the law. In 1973, the MSAAD became MHRA and was further amended to prohibit sex discrimination in the areas of housing, public accommodations, public service, credit eligibility and education. It also extended protected status to women based on their marital status. In 1977, protection from discrimination in employment and education based on pregnancy was added to the MHRA. (Laws 1977, Chapter 408)

Historical Context: The early 1970s were active years in the area of women's rights legislation. The limitations and implications of state and federal civil rights laws were being tested in the courts, locally and up to the Supreme Court. Civil rights issues dovetailed with women's rights issues under the banner of general human rights. Many states formed human rights commissions or departments and produced a barrage of anti-discrimination laws during the 1970s that are still being amended to this day. In Minnesota, the Department of Human Rights was created in 1967 to replace the State Commission Against Discrimination. The Minnesota Human Rights Act, enacted in 1973, is the umbrella legislation covering illegal discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, public assistance status, pregnancy status, disability, age and sexual orientation.

Selected Resources
Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Department of Human Rights Timeline.


1973 - Equal Rights Amendment in Minnesota 

Synopsis: Minnesota ratified the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (Laws 1973, Resolution 1).

Legislative History: From its inception in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment highlighted the conflict between women's groups who advocated for legislative equality for all, and other women's groups who favored protective legislation for women. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that passed both houses of Congress in 1972 contained three simple components: equality of rights cannot be denied due to sex; Congress shall enforce the amendment; and the amendment would take place two years after ratification. Although ratification was never a guarantee, many states (such as Minnesota) did substantial legal work behind the scenes to prepare for the effect on Minnesota laws should the ERA take effect. Minnesota was one of eight states to ratify the ERA in 1973. By 1977 a total of 35 states had ratified the amendment, three states short of the required 38. Although the official deadline for ratification has passed, there are still groups advocating a 'three state strategy' to continue the push for ratification.

Historical Context: n 1923, suffragist Alice Paul outlined an Equal Rights Amendment at a gathering of women's rights activists in Seneca Falls, NY. She called it the 'Lucretia Mott Amendment,' to honor another prominent suffragist. The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress that year, and in every subsequent year (with substantially the same language) until 1972. It wasn't until the 1970s that support for the ERA gained substantial strength in the wake of the civil rights movement and through the added support of labor unions. In 1972, both houses of Congress voted to send the Equal Rights Amendment to the states for ratification. In passing the amendment, Congress placed a seven-year ratification deadline for the necessary 38 states to ratify. By the time the deadline arrived in 1979, only 35 states had ratified the amendment. In 1977, Alice Paul died, never having seen the amendment successfully enacted. The deadline for ratification was extended by three years, but by then enthusiasm for its passage had waned, groups opposed to the amendment had organized, and the number of states needed to ratify remained at three.

The most significant arguments against the ERA included: denial of women the right to be supported by their husbands; opposition to sending women into combat; opposition to links between women's rights and the abortion and homosexual rights groups; opposition to what was perceived as a federal power grab; and general religious opposition. Proponents of the ERA rely on Alice Paul´s argument that unless equal rights are written into the framework of our government, women´s rights are never truly secure. Although the issue of an Equal Rights Amendment has largely subsided from public debate, there are groups who are still advocating for its passage.

Selected Resources
Alice Paul Institute. The Equal Rights Amendment. The website includes an overview and timeline.

'Note: The Effect on Minnesota Law of the Equal Rights Amendment', Minnesota Law Review, Volume 57, 1973, p. 771-805.


1974 - No Fault Divorce 

Synopsis: Minnesota enacted a no-fault divorce law. (Laws 1974, Chapter 107)

Legislative History: In 1974, Minnesota enacted a no-fault divorce law. This law deleted the specific grounds for divorce that needed to be proven before a couple could dissolve their marriage. The law didn't eliminate fault as a consideration for division of property or alimony (this has since been changed to a no-fault status as well, although Minnesota courts have latitude in allocating financial consequences for 'bad behavior'). In enacting this law, legislators were following the lead of numerous other states who were rewriting their divorce laws.

Historical Context: Dating back to before the 20th century, anyone wanting a divorce in Minnesota would have to prove that one spouse was guilty of one or another of a list of grievous offenses toward the other spouse. The concept of a no-fault divorce was actually pioneered by the Bolsheviks; subsequent to the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks passed a Divorce Decree in 1918 that removed all church-driven moral judgments from legal affairs. In the United States, California was the first state to enact no-fault legislation. New York was the last state to become no-fault, waiting until 2010 to pass such legislation (prior to this change, New Yorkers needed to be legally separated for a year before a divorce was granted).

It should be noted that to this day, there are arguments both for and against no-fault divorce within the women's rights movement. Arguing for no-fault divorce are those who say that domestic violence and female suicide rates are lower with no-fault divorces and that prior to these laws, many women were economically and emotionally powerless to prove their spouses guilty of bad behavior. Additionally, lawyers complained about the 'legal fictions' that many couples created to justify divorces, using valuable court time and money. Arguing against no-fault divorces are those who say that fathers' rights are being curtailed with a presumption of child custody toward the woman, even if he has done no wrong. Also, some women argue that no-fault divorce takes away any bargaining leverage from the non-moneyed spouse. Lastly, there are those who argue that no-fault divorce devalues marriage to the point of no longer being a contract.


1975 - Equal Opportunity in Athletics 

Synopsis: This law, known as the "Kahn Act," provided for equal opportunity in athletic teams and spelled out when single-sex teams are acceptable (Laws 1975, Chapter 338).

Legislative History: In 1975, the Minnesota Human Rights Act was amended to ensure a pathway of equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls. The Minnesota law permitted athletic team membership to be restricted to one sex if necessary to provide both sexes with an equal opportunity to participate. Tax-funded entities such as public schools, colleges and city recreation programs are required to follow these regulations. The law also says that if two separate teams are provided in the same sport, then they must be treated in a substantially equal manner, including budget allocations (gate receipts, gifts and funds raised by booster clubs are exempt from the bill). Rep. Phyllis Kahn was a leader in introducing this legislation; the state law strengthened the federal Title IX regulations which were declared by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The primary difference is that Minnesota law explicitly provides for no sex separation in athletics or sports teams for children under the age of 11. Another provision of the law allows girls to try out for boys' teams, even if separate teams are provided, for athletes age twelve and older. The bill passed both the Minnesota House and Senate with little opposition. Furthermore, according to the results of a Minneapolis Star Metro-Poll, Twin Cities area residents were in support of the new measures. All entities under this law had to be in compliance by the 1977-1978 academic year.

In 1994, a law was passed that addressed gender equity in indoor ice arenas. The law centers on ice arenas used by the public, which must provide prime ice time to women and girls (Laws 1994, Chapter 632, Article 3, Section 23).

Historical Context: In the 19th century in America, sports for women existed mostly as recreation such as swimming and horseback riding. Women's constitutions were assumed to be more delicate than men's and women were advised by medical professionals that physical activity near the time of menstruation was hazardous to one's health. As women gained access to higher education, they became more competitive in athletics, especially in sports such as tennis, croquet, bowling and archery. Prevailing laws and attitudes were slow to change, however; it wasn't until the 1920s that women were allowed to play intercollegiate sports (basketball was the first organized intercollegiate sport for women). Despite universal suffrage, the growth in women's athletics was slow until the 1940s when women joined the military and the first female professional league (baseball) was established. As the civil rights and feminist movements gained strength, so did the push for equality in athletics at all ages. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX (an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964) which went largely unnoticed until colleges and municipalities started to question how they were supposed to implement Title IX. Congress allowed a six-year implementation timeline but Title IX requirements have resulted in consistent and contentious debates from 1972 to this day. Minnesota's law attempted to clarify Title IX requirements and added its own progressive stamp to the issue of equality in athletics at even the very youngest age.

Selected Resources
Gender Equity in Athletics: A Manual to Assist Minnesota High Schools to conduct a Self-Review of Their Athletic Programs. Minnesota State High School League, 1993. The introduction includes a historical perspective.


1976 - Establishing the Council on the Economic Status of Women 

Synopsis: The Council on the Economic Status of Women was created by the Minnesota Legislature (Laws 1976, Chapter 337).

Legislative History: The genesis of the Council on the Economic Status of Women was found in the House of Representatives when, in August of 1975, Representative Stanley A. Enebo, Chair of the Labor-Management Relations Committee, called a special interim meeting to research the status of women and employment in Minnesota. This preliminary hearing led Representative Enebo to introduce a bill calling for the establishment of the Council. This bill was also included as a legislative priority by Governor Wendell Anderson in 1976. The council's statutory mandate was, '...to study all matters related to the economic status of women in the state of Minnesota.' The original council included five members of the House and Senate, and five members appointed by the governor. The original bill included a sunset date for the Council of 1978; this was successfully removed and the Council continued to operate in its original fashion until 1983. As a response to gubernatorial appointees who were opposed to the council in 1981, the council was reformed to a commission in 1983, removing the gubernatorial appointees and reconstructing the Commission as a body of eight legislators, four from each body and four from each political party. At its height, the Commission employed four people.

Throughout its history, the Commission fought off regular attempts to modify or eliminate its existence. In 2005, the Commission was eliminated and its duties were transferred to the Legislative Coordinating Commission, where it was reorganized as an Office. Today the Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW) remains a part of the Legislative Coordinating Commission, operating under the same mandate of the original statutory charge. (Minnesota Statutes 3.303, Subdivision 7)

Historical Context: In 1963, President Kennedy established the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women and appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as the Commissioner. The commission was designed to respond to the public conversation that was emerging around the role of women in society at large, women's rights, and women in the workplace. President Kennedy encouraged states, counties and cities to establish their own commissions to appropriately respond to the status of women in various parts of the country. In Minnesota, Governor Rolvaag established a Council on Women in 1965 but little information is available as to the operations of this entity. The Council on the Economic Status of Women and the original August 1975 hearing emerged from several factors converging at the same time, including a backlog of Human Rights complaints from women in the workplace, the emerging presence of women in unions, and the increased percentage of women in the work force.

Selected Resources
Leadership History. Council on the Economic Status of Women, Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women, and Office on the Economic Status of Women, 1976-2010.

Newsletter. Council on the Economic Status of Women, November, 1976. The first issue of the newsletter.


1977 - Battered Women/Domestic Violence 

Synopsis: In 1977, Minnesota became the first state to give financial support to battered women's shelters (Laws 1977, Chapter 425).

Legislative History: In 1977, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to award state funds to battered women's shelters. First-of-its-kind legislation, authored by Representative Phyllis Kahn and Senator B. Robert Lewis, the law provided $500,000 to establish four pilot programs for shelter and support services. Two of the shelters were to be in the Twin Cities metro area, one in a non-metro city, and one in a rural area. The law also provided funds for data collection and reporting, community education and training for displaced homemakers. The law required a study to evaluate the data for action in subsequent legislative sessions. In 1979, a public safety omnibus act expanded the pilot programs and support services and appropriated $2.9 million for an expanded shelter program and advocacy services for women and children (Laws 1979, Chapter 241). Today, all domestic violence programs are housed in the Department of Public Safety and organized under the Domestic Abuse Act (Statutes, 518B.01).

Historical Context: At the time of the 1977 law authorizing pilot state-funded shelter programs in Minnesota, the shelter system was growing in America. The first shelter in the Twin Cities was created in St. Paul in the early 1970s by Women's Advocates, a coalition of women's rights activists affiliated with Legal Aid. After starting in a small apartment, their shelter grew with the purchase of a house in 1974. Another group, the Women's Consortium, played an active role in drafting the seminal 1977 law. In 1981, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth developed a model for a coordinated community response to the issue of domestic violence. The approach, now known nationwide as the Duluth Project, uses a multi-disciplinary effort to tackle the many facets of the problem. In 1981-82, the Minneapolis Police Department and researcher Lawrence Sherman conducted a study on the most effective deterrent to domestic violence. The study (called the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, or MDVE) concluded that automatic arrest was the primary deterrent to repeat offenses of domestic violence. Although still controversial today, the MDVE garnered front page headlines across the nation and had a dramatic impact on the criminal justice approach to domestic violence. Federally, the response to domestic violence has focused primarily on criminal justice. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which appropriated $1.6 billion to enhance criminal prosecution and protection efforts. The National Organization for Women called VAWA 'the greatest civil rights breakthrough for women in two decades.'

Selected Resources
Battered Women Programs: A Legislative Report. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, 1979.

Battered Women: An Effective Response. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, Programs and Services for Battered Women, 1979. An educational manual for professionals and organizations providing services to women who are abused.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. Detailed information on the Duluth Model.

Pirius, Rebecca. Domestic Abuse Laws in Minnesota: An Overview. St. Paul, MN: Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, 2007.


1978 - Open Appointments Act 

Synopsis: In 1978, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Open Appointments Act; one of its effects was to encourage more women to compete for and win appointments to state-funded commissions, councils and boards. (Laws 1978, Chapter 592)

Legislative History: In 1978, the Legislature authorized the Open Appointments Act, following an initiative started by Governor Perpich in 1977. This bill provided for an open appointment process for all state governmental agencies, including boards, commissions, and councils. The open appointments process allowed equal opportunity and participation in these agencies so that all citizens could become active members. The law requires the Secretary of State to announce each vacancy and make the application available to the general public. The applications are then referred to the specific agency seeking appointments and the Secretary of State maintains appointment records of each state agency. Data collection on the composition of boards was required as part of the law, but some data, including gender, was published 'only if the member has voluntarily supplied the information.' In 1991, a bill was introduced that would have required gender balance on all boards and commissions, but it did not pass (Senate file 768).

Historical Context: The Act gives all people an equal opportunity to apply and be considered for appointment to state-funded multi-member boards and agencies. The new process as authorized by the 1978 legislature simplified and opened up the appointment procedures. As a result of the legislation, during the first five years of the law's enactment there was an increase of appointed women in state agencies from 29 percent to 33 percent. Local governing bodies such as cities, counties, school districts and townships continue to have their own appointment processes.

Selected Resources
Open Commissions and Appointments. Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. OESW Legislative Summary, 1978.


1982 - Prohibition on Sexual Harassment 

Synopsis: Sexual harassment was defined as an act of discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) (Laws 1982, Chapter 619, codified as part of the MHRA, Statutes, 363A).

Legislative History: In a 1980 court case (Continental Can Co. v State of Minnesota), the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the application of state law in sexual harassment cases. It ruled that 'The prohibition against sex discrimination in the state human rights act includes sexual harassment directed at an employee by fellow employees which impacts a condition of employment when the employer knew or should have known of the conduct alleged to constitute sexual harassment and failed to take timely and appropriate action.'

In response, the Minnesota Council on the Economic Status of Women formed a task force to study the issue and propose a revision of the MHRA. The result of that work and the 1982 Sexual Harassment Task Force Report was legislation introduced by Representative Carolyn Rodriguez, adding sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the MHRA. Minnesota's law defines sexual harassment broadly as: 'unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature.' In 1982, Minnesota's new law went farther than Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act in that it specified sexual harassment, and not just gender discrimination, as a violation of civil rights. Additionally, Minnesota's law applies to employers with as few as one employee, providing citizens with broader protection and remedies for their claims than is provided by the federal government.

Historical Context: The implications of civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s took on important meaning for women, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, courts struggled with the application of civil rights laws to a variety of interest groups, and state legislatures responded with legislation designed to codify the values embodied in the complicated issue of civil rights. In 1982, Minnesota added sexual harassment as a form of discrimination to the Minnesota Human Rights Law. Shortly thereafter, Minnesota was the setting for the nation's first class action lawsuit relating to workplace sexual harassment, Jensen v Eveleth Taconite Company (on which the film 'North Country' was based). This famous and drawn-out case began in 1984 with Jensen's file of a complaint to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. In the years since 1982, the definition of sexual harassment has been refined numerous times to address different court rulings and affected groups.

Selected Resources
Commission on the Economic Status of Women. Sexual Harassment Task Force Report. St. Paul, MN: Council on the Economic Status of Women, 1982.

Winter, Catherine and Stephanie Hemphill. No Place for a Woman. (radio documentary) American Public Media, 2005. This documentary on the Eveleth Mine sexual harassment case was produced as part of the American Radioworks series.


1982 - Shakopee Women's Correctional Facility 

Synopsis: The Minnesota Legislature authorized funding for a new prison facility in Shakopee exclusively for women. (Laws 1982, Chapter 639, Section 11)

Legislative History: While the Shakopee Prison project had several major milestones in its legislative history, the one that provided initial authorization for the project occurred in 1982. At that time, the legislature authorized $4.7 million in state bonds to be issued for the construction of a new, state of the art, women's prison, adjacent to the old women's prison in Shakopee. The following year, construction began on the new women's prison (the only one in the state) and the new building opened in 1986.

Historical Context: In 1908, the state of Minnesota constructed a separate school for delinquent girls (the Minnesota Home School for Girls) in Sauk Centre. But it was not until 1920 that a separate prison for adult women opened in the state. Here is a report on testimony from a 1915 legislative hearing on the issue:

On March 4, at a legislative hearing at the State Capitol, Mrs. Isabel Davis Higbee made a plea for establishment of a reformatory for women. She argued in favor of a new institution where women offenders would neither be incarcerated with male inmates nor with teenage girls. At the conclusion of her talk, Mrs. Higbee collapsed and died. On March 10, the legislature passed a bill authorizing establishment of the women's reformatory. At the time, the majority of women law-breakers were found guilty of prostitution and were usually fined and sent home or committed to the workhouse for a short term. Others were sent to the State Prison, the State Reformatory or the girls' school. The superintendent at the reformatory took women inmates into his home or placed them in the local jail. (Corrections Retrospective, MN Department of Corrections, 1999)

When the new Shakopee Correctional Facility opened in 1986, the census was 92 inmates. Today there are close to 600. While there has not been a high profile breakout since the new prison opened, there is ongoing controversy in the community about the issue of fencing. Currently the prison has a hedge separating the prison from the community, but various legislators and law enforcement have tried over the years to have a 10-12 foot perimeter fence constructed, arguing that the types of prisoner have changed and grown increasingly violent. Others in the community argue against the fence and say it's not necessary. The Shakopee prison offers substance abuse treatment, parenting training and mental health treatment.

Selected Resources
Bakkedahl, Dan. 'Uncaged Heat'. The Daily Show. March 7, 2006. A satirical look at the issue of erecting a fence around the Shakopee Prison.

Corrections Retrospective 1959-1999. St. Paul, MN : Minnesota Department of Corrections, 1999.

Facility Information: Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Cox, Peter. 'Shakopee Prison Fence Doing Time in Political Purgatory.' Star Tribune, March 2, 2010.


1982 - State Government Pay Equity Act 

Synopsis: Minnesota passed the State Government Pay Equity Act which addressed the issue of equitable compensation between male and female-dominated jobs. (Laws 1982, Chapter 634)

Legislative History: In 1982, as a result of the task force efforts by the Council on the Economic Status of Women, the Legislature passed the State Government Pay Equity Act. This bill was authored by male and female members of the House and Senate with bipartisan support in the House, and it met little opposition during testimony. The law appropriates funds for the state to establish equitable compensation relationships between female-dominated, male-dominated, and balanced classes of state employees. Occupations were compared using the Hay system, which is a point-based scale, and the evaluation of female-dominated jobs and male-dominated jobs under scores of comparability showed significant pay increases due to those jobs which were classified as 'female.' The pay equity adjustments were phased in over two years and costs were less than 2% of the state's overall payroll during this time.

In 1984, the legislature passed the Local Government Employment Pay Equity Act which extended the comparable compensation systems to local government employees such as teachers, city workers and county employees. (Laws 1984, Chapter 651) At first this law was voluntary, without any enforcement mechanism; however, the law was amended to include the requirement of local government employees to submit a compliance report to the state legislature, and failure to comply would result in financial penalties.

Historical Context: The State Government Pay Equity Act was implemented with ease and there was little disruption of established bargaining relationships. This law came as a response to persistent wage differentials between men and women, despite the passage of federal anti-discrimination legislation such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1969, Minnesota also passed an 'Equal Pay for Equal Work' law, which prohibits wage discrimination based on gender; the law stated that male and female employees must receive equal compensation for work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility. (Laws 1969, Chapter 143) This law covers all private employers, regardless of size, but did not cover state or local government employees. Pay Equity legislation also came as a response to court costs addressing pay discrimination cases that were costly to the state and rising in number.

Minnesota's pay equity law resulted in wage increases for men and women alike, and by 1994, almost 95% of Minnesota local governments achieved pay equity. Pay equity in Minnesota has helped diminish the wage gap. Currently, female state employees make nearly 97% of the average earnings for men.

Selected Resources
Pay Equity and Comparable Worth. Data and Resources from the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget

Pay Equity: The Minnesota Experience. St. Paul, MN: Council on the Economic Status of Women, 1994


1986 - Gender Revision in Minnesota Statutes 

Synopsis: Minnesota Statutes were completely revised to remove all non-substantial gender references (Laws 1986, Chapter 444).

Legislative History: In 1984, the Minnesota Legislature directed the Revisor of Statutes to prepare a revision of Minnesota Statutes with all nonsubstantive gender-specific terms removed. (Laws 1984, Chapter 480, section 21) During 1985, the Revisor's Office completed its analysis and in 1986, the nonsubstantive gender revisions proposed by the Office were adopted by the Legislature, with some exceptions. The bill sparked long and lively debate in the House and Senate. Representative David Bishop, author of the House bill, was surprised by the 20 floor amendments during floor debate.

A funny interchange in the Senate was related in an article in the Lake Country News Chronicle from Two Harbors. 'At one point during her debate with Sen. Bob Lessard, DFL - International Falls, who opposed the bill, Sen. Ember Reichgott said she received an unsigned note from another legislator which said, 'Dear Ember: Go ahead and shoot him. The worst you can get is people-slaughter.''

In April, Senator Ember Reichgott, as Chair of the Council on the Economic Status of Women, asked the Revisor's Office to prepare a report detailing the remaining gender-specific words that couldn't be changed, and why changing the original words would change the meaning or intent of the law. The report, Remaining Substantive Gender References in Minnesota Statutes, was released in December 1986. In 1987, additional changes to statutory language were made (Laws 1987, Chapter 39, Chapter 49). Interestingly, the 1986 law does include two phrases that were directed to be returned to their original gender-specific form in the statutes: 'airman' and 'sportsmen's club.'

Historical Context: The Gender Revision of 1986 was one of the largest revisions of the Minnesota Statutes in the history of its publication, estimated at more than 20,000 changed words. It occurred during a wave of such revisions in statutes, both state and federal, across the country.

Selected Resources
Remaining Substantive Gender References in Minnesota Statutes 1986: Report of the Revisor of Statutes to The Legislative Commission on the Economic Status of Women, St. Paul, MN: Office of the Revisor of Statutes, 1986.


1987 - Parental Leave Act 

Synopsis: The Minnesota Legislature passed a Parental Leave Act, giving employees up to six weeks of unpaid leave with the birth or adoption of a child. (Laws 1987, Chapter 359)

Legislative History: Minnesota's Parental Leave Act of 1987 was ahead of the country when it was passed. Designed as a state-created policy, and not a response to a federal law, Minnesota's Parental Leave Act was one of four such acts passed by states in 1987 (Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island were the other three). Minnesota's law was written in gender neutral language (vs. similar laws which provide only for maternity leave), and provides a mother or father up to six weeks of unpaid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. The employee needs to have been working at their job for at least twelve consecutive months; the law also mandates that insurance remain available to the employee while on leave. The state law applies only to companies with 21 or more employees, a modification of the federal law which applies only to companies with 50 or more employees. In 1990, the law was modified to ensure that employers allow their employees up to 16 hours of leave during any school year to attend school conferences or classroom activities if they could not be scheduled during non-work hours. (Laws 1990, Chapter 577)

Historical Context: The idea of a paid maternity leave dates back to the 1880s in Germany. Paid parental leave has evolved as a statutory practice in other countries in the world much more quickly than in the United States. In the U.S., the Department of Labor in 1942 advocated offering women six weeks pre-birth and eight weeks post-birth, but no federal legislation enforcing any kind of family leave was signed until 1993. States were left to design their own options for parental leave, creating a patchwork of laws around the country during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) became federal law; it does not pre-empt or preclude state laws which might offer more generous benefits. Under the FMLA, employees may take up to 12 weeks off for the birth/adoption of a child, but also for the sickness of a close relative. The FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees (more than 50% of U.S. companies have fewer than 50 employees). Internationally, the U.S. still lags behind other countries in the area of parental leave. Worldwide, statutory childbirth-related leaves provide, on average, more than one year of leave, and in over 100 countries, that leave is paid.

Selected Resources
Minnesota's Parental Leave Law. St. Paul, MN: Office on the Economic Status of Women, Updated 2006.

Parental Leave, Family and Medical Leave, and Pregnancy Discrimination. St. Paul, MN: Office on the Economic Status of Women, Updated 2006.

State Parental Leave Act and federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): A Quick Reference Guide. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry


1995 - Labor Education and Advancement Program or LEAP 

Synopsis: The Minnesota Legislature established the Labor Education and Advancement Program (LEAP), to facilitate the entry of minorities and women into apprenticeable trades (Laws 1995, Chapter 224, Section 72).

Legislative History: In 1995, the Labor Education Advancement Program provided funding to facilitate the inclusion of women and minorities in the apprenticeable trades and occupations. This funding, also known as 'LEAP' funding, was concurrent to state resources being funneled to community organizations working with minorities and women in 'non-traditional' careers (those that include 25% or less of one gender). As part of the appropriation for the program in 1999, the Legislature required a report on the success of the program in placing and retaining participants. (Laws 1999, Chapter 223, Article 1, Section 11) The 2000 report noted, 'The Division of Apprenticeship shows an increase from 362 women and minorities in 1991 to 995 women and minorities in 2000 who are actively enrolled and participating in apprenticeship training.'

Historical Context: In the early 1990s, significant social momentum was forming around recruiting women and minorities into trade-related work. With significant starting salaries, a clear path for advancement and an excellent benefit package, these jobs were particularly appealing. Simultaneously, the trades workforce, which was primarily white older males, was starting to begin a wave of retirements, leaving a workforce shortage that their sons, nephews, and grandsons would not be able to fill. While women and minorities had participated in the trades in the past, their numbers were very few and their experiences in the trades were varied. Many experienced harassment on the job and had a difficult time sustaining their employment. LEAP programming not only addressed increasing the numbers of women and minorities in the trades, but also looked at conditions on the job. Other efforts to include women and minorities in traditionally male areas of work have also been addressed in the state. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has facilitated several programs to support women and minorities in obtaining 'highway heavy' contracts. Though there has been some progress in these areas, percentages of women and minorities in most trade-related fields remain under 8%.

Selected Resources
Women in the trades: A study of apprenticeship in Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Council on the Economic Status of Women, 1979. The report noted that of 7,521 active apprenticeships in Minnesota that year, 91- or 1.2% - were women. Interest in involving women in non-traditional jobs preceded the 1995 legislation by many years.

Report on Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP) Performance. St. Paul, MN: Department of Labor and Industry, Division of Apprenticeship, 2000.


1998 - Accommodations for Nursing Mothers 

Synopsis: Minnesota passed the country's first law requiring employers to provide accommodations for nursing mothers who need to express breast milk. (Laws 1998, Chapter 369)

Legislative History: The 1998 law requires that any employer who employs one or more employee must provide reasonable unpaid time and space for the purpose of expressing breast milk. The time for expressing milk should coincide with already scheduled break time and the facility for expressing milk should be somewhere other than a bathroom. Additionally, the law revises the indecent exposure statute to confirm that public breastfeeding is not indecent exposure.

Historical Context: In the 1990s, state legislatures around the country were faced with revising antiquated laws prohibiting breastfeeding in public. At the same time, medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending breastfeeding as an optimal source of nutrition for babies. With the majority of mothers working full time, states inevitably took on the challenge of balancing the needs of employers and the needs of working/nursing mothers. Florida was the first state to provide state recommendations for employers to support the expressing of breast milk at the workplace, but this 1994 law did not require employers to make accommodations. Minnesota's 1998 law was the first law in the country to require unpaid break time and a reasonable location for expressing breast milk. As of 2011, 24 states have workplace laws protecting the rights of women to express breast milk. In March of 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. This law represents the federal government's first legislation protecting the workplace rights of nursing mothers. The federal law covers only non-exempt employees (hourly) and allows employers with fewer than 50 employees to opt out of the requirement if it imposes undue hardship. But the law does state that where a state law affords more protection for women (such as in Minnesota's law), the state law supercedes the federal law.

Selected Resources
Breastfeeding Laws. Denver, CO: National Conference of State Legislatures, Updated September 2015.

Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Revised August 2013.


2005 - Sex Trafficking Law 

Synopsis: Minnesota enacted its first major human sex trafficking legislation. (Laws 2005, Chapter 136)

Legislative History: In 2005, Minnesota enacted its first major human sex trafficking legislation. Importantly, this act established legal definitions around the issue of sex trafficking. It also called for rigorous data collection on sex trafficking. The act also established a distinction between prostitution and trafficking, allowing prostitutes to use coerced trafficking as a defense to criminal charges against them. This 2005 law was the cornerstone upon which all future sex trafficking laws were built.

Historical Context: Prior to 2000, prostitution laws in the United States and Minnesota focused primarily on the criminal acts of prostitutes. Beginning in 2000 and supported by a newly developed United Nations Trafficking Protocol, international and national trafficking laws began to address the issue of the traffickers themselves. Coalitions of governments, advocates and law enforcement personnel began to reframe the issue of sex trafficking as a human rights and public safety issue. The efforts of these and other groups at all levels of government have resulted in the growth of legal protections for women and children, as well as an increased ability to prosecute perpetrators. A key piece of federal legislation in the effort to reduce the incidence of human sex trafficking was the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act (TVPA) of 2000. In Minnesota, there has been a parallel effort to the national work being done on the issue of sex trafficking. From 2003-2010, more than 25 pieces of legislation addressing human trafficking were introduced in the Minnesota Legislature. The issues of human trafficking, prostitution, sex travel and international marriage brokers appear in legislation related to public safety, human rights, immigration and appropriations. There are two task forces dedicated to sharing information and coordinating efforts to combat human trafficking: the Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force, established in 2005; and the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, established in 2006.

Selected Resources
Human Trafficking in Minnesota: A Report to the Legislature. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Office of Justice Programs, Minnesota Statistical Analysis Center, 2006- . The report from the Human Trafficking Task Force was done annually in 2006, 2007, and 2010; the frequency was changed from annual to biennial in 2008.

Minnesota Legislative Session Summary 2005. St. Paul, MN: Office on the Economic Status of Women, 2005. See pages 26-27 for a summary of the law.

Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN: Advocates for Human Rights, 2008.


2014 - Women's Economic Security Act 

Synopsis: Provisions to help women and their families achieve economic security, including expansion of parental and sick leave; mechanisms to reduce the gender pay gap; measures to help victims of sexual violence maintain economic stability; grants to train women for high-wage jobs and to encourage women entrepreneurs in traditionally male industries; protection from workplace discrimination for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and parents; and a study of innovative retirement savings plans. (Laws 2014, Chapter 239)

Legislative History: In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), a broad package of provisions designed to help women who are in the workforce and their families achieve economic security. WESA requires greater workplace accommodations for women—and men—who are parents, for pregnant women and nursing mothers, and for victims of sexual or domestic abuse or stalking; WESA also prohibits employment discrimination against pregnant women or parents of minor children. WESA addresses the gender pay gap by providing programs to encourage women to get higher paying jobs or to start businesses in industry sectors that are likely to produce high revenue, by requiring certain state contractors to certify that they comply with existing state and federal equal pay laws, and by making it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing their wages. Recognizing that older women often live in poverty because of a lifetime of lower pay and gender discrimination, WESA attempts to avoid that fate for the next generation of older women by establishing a study of innovative retirement savings plans for those private sector employees who are not offered such plans through their work.

Historical Context: In 2014, the economic status of Minnesota women reflected both encouraging and troubling trends: Minnesota led the nation in women in the workforce, with 79% of Minnesota mothers of young children working outside the home. Minnesota women also were increasingly the primary family breadwinners (mirroring the national trend). At the same time, though, 60% of Minnesota’s low-wage workers were women, a gender pay gap ranging from 20% to 43% (depending on a woman’s race/ethnicity) persisted, the affordability of rental housing in Minnesota was among the worst in the nation, Minnesota had the third highest cost for quality childcare in the nation, and Minnesota’s older women were more than twice as likely as older men to live in poverty. In summary, Minnesota women were in the workforce and their earnings were crucial to their families, but women often were not earning enough to support themselves or their families. Primary causes were the family caregiving responsibilities of women (whether for young children or for aging parents and spouses), which often conflicted with the demands of an inflexible workplace; women’s choice of occupation; and gender bias.

Minnesota legislators introduced 15 separate bills to help women earn higher pay and balance family responsibilities with work. Some bills—like raising the minimum wage—continued through the legislative process separately. Nine of the bills were wrapped together in the Women’s Economic Security Act. Minnesota was a trailblazer nationally in passing a comprehensive, single piece of legislation that addressed many different areas of law and policy, yet had a common, unifying theme of removing barriers to the economic security of women and families. Many of the WESA provisions also helped men balance family responsibilities with those of work.


This is a joint project of the LCC Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Legislative Reference Library.  The project is made possible by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

MNHS Legacy Grant Receipient Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment