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Minnesota Women's Legislative Timeline

Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage

Comments From Those Who Worked on the Project

Robbie LaFleur is the Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

My constant feeling during this project, and especially at the end, was, “There’s not enough time! There’s not enough detail! This is barely a start!” We vastly underestimated the amount of time needed for verification and editing. Each of the interesting essays could be a pages-long article. Each brief entry could be an essay. We wanted to add photos and work on the graphical appeal of the timeline and essays, but in the end, the time needed for research and verification won out. We felt that concentrating on the content was most important.

Thanks are due to many people. Our team had an abundance of talent, experience, and enthusiasm. Mary McGreevy’s writing, research, and organization skills were key to the project’s success. She was our only paid outside consultant and she used her time wisely. If we’d had more money for the project, the content would only have become richer.

Amy Brenengen’s experience with legislation was deep and important, and the project was her idea!

Elizabeth Lincoln is a consummate editor, and the most skilled librarian-multitasker I've ever met.

We couldn't have done the project without the constant good humor and the immense talent of the Library’s programmer, Mike Schatz. He creatively devised the underlying database and template for presentation and patiently made the million changes we suggested.

Jenny Schwope, an intern with the Office on the Economic Status of Women, gave generously o f her unpaid time. It was valuable to have the viewpoint of a young woman on our team. The other research team members remember passage of many of the laws on the timeline due to their experience – or, uhmm, age. Since we want the timeline to appeal to citizens and students and researchers of all ages, having Jenny on the team was so positive.

We are also thankful to the outside reviewers who responded thoughtfully to our appeals for ideas and who helped narrow down our longer list to the set we could manage within the scope of this modest project.

Finally, we are thankful to receive Legacy grant funds for this project.

The work of the legislature has had a serious impact on the lives of women, and we wanted to include interesting and important laws. We didn't include some that were fascinating, …. Peeping… But even though we had a serious purpose in mind, we couldn’t resist adding a link to a funny Daily Show segment in the essay on the Shakopee Women’s Prison.

At the Legislative Reference Library we are looking constantly for new ways to pull together information about issues and legislators and about how legislation is passed. In our never-ending quest to create more access to legislative information, this project was a great fit. I liked this project both for bringing together an interesting set of historical materials and to serve as a model for future projects. So often legislative actions are examined in a narrow time slice – what happened in a particular year or session? It’s less common to look at broad topics over time, and to get an idea of how the actions of the Legislature fit into a larger historical picture.

Amy Brenengen is the former Director of the Office on the Economic Status of Women.

At one point in the process of completing this project, I wrote an email to our project manager, Mary McGreevy, that said, "In the end, the story of the timeline may indeed be the story of what is not on the timeline."

Narrowing the topics on the timeline was not an easy task. From the moment we began work on this project, we had ideas of how we could expand it. We regularly revisited the resources at hand and the project timeline we had established to ensure that we stayed within the plan we had laid out and the resources available to use.

We had several guiding principles as we explored the legislation:

  • A legislative focus: We knew our focus was legislative. There are other timelines and documents that chronicle "firsts" for women in Minnesota, but we wanted to create a document that focused on laws passed.
  • Laws passed, not bills introduced. We knew we were looking for laws passed, not bills introduced or bills that almost made it into law. Interestingly, the historical descriptions of the laws passed often show that several attempts were made before the law passed. Additionally, we learned that laws were often modified or changed in later years based on knowledge gained after implementation.
  • A Minnesota Focus: We knew our focus was Minnesota - not laws passed in the U.S. There is often interplay between state, federal and local law - some of our expanded definitions touch on this. It is often the case that a law passed at the state level is a direct response to laws passed in these other levels of government.
  • The Experience of Women: We knew we wanted to focus as closely as we could on the singular experience of women. The long list of laws we started with as our team poured through statute books and historical documents showed that "women's issues" are issues about being a wife or being a mother. We wanted to try and look at laws about women as women.
  • The Economic Lives of Women: Because the project was directed by the Office on the Economic Status of Women, we had a special interest in looking at laws relating to women's economic lives. We tried to includes these issues as often as we could.

These guiding principles helped us assemble our original list of approximately 180 laws. As a team, we narrowed that list down to about 65 laws. We shared this longer document with several key stakeholders to get their feedback as we narrowed the list. This group included present and past legislators, historians, leaders in women's organizations of now and then, legislative staff, and other interested individuals.

A most common response from our key stakeholders was "why narrow? " This lead us to designing a timeline that included a larger number of entries, most of which had short descriptions. From this list, we chose 15 - 20 for longer treatment. In some cases these were selected for their historical significance, in some cases they were simply fascinating and little known achievements that we wanted to raise up.

We hope that if readers have ideas for "what's next" for the timeline that they share them in the comments section. One of the most promising aspects of coming to the end of this project is realizing how much more can be done. We hope the timeline is a beginning - a nudge that encourages readers to learn more, ask more questions, and ultimately to find more answers.

Mary McGreevy is a consultant who specializes in interviewing, researching and writing. She also likes to tell stories on film, which can be seen at www.sevenandsixtyproductions.com.

It was a privilege to work on the Timeline Project. I fall into that demographic pocket of women that feels connected to two eras: the 1970s, when giant, hard-fought strides were made for women across the country, and today, when it seems like there are some areas when the men are falling behind! I am a beneficiary of all the work that women's rights advocates have done over the years, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to look deeper into their history of accomplishment and struggle. It's especially interesting to see this history unfold in the Minnesota Legislature, since we tend to think of national women's rights issues when we remember milestones for women. Minnesota has a fascinating story when it comes to the incremental but vital changes in legislation for women over the years.

Not being a native of Minnesota, I found it especially interesting to see what a leader Minnesota was and is on issues of women's rights. In almost every area we studied for the timeline, Minnesota was in the vanguard of change for women (and correspondingly, there are some states that are almost always bringing up the rear in terms of legislative changes for women). Each and every law we studied reflected serious debate and negotiation among interest groups, even the laws that to a modern eye seem obviously necessary. Imagine the heated debate over allowing female jurors; in its day, it generated as much "heat" as the modern debates over Title IX regulations and ice time for females!

Choosing which laws to write about was the greatest challenge of the project. If you're reading this timeline and wondering about all the laws that we couldn't feature due to time and space considerations, your instincts are correct: there are many more interesting milestones in Minnesota's legislative history. (And not a lot written about them, just in case you're looking for a PhD thesis topic....) We tried to be very thoughtful about which laws to feature and study, and we valued the advice given to us by current and past leaders on women's issues in the state. I hope you've learned as much as I did about women's legislative history in Minnesota. If you have comments about the project, I hope you'll find the Feedback feature on the website and chime in with your two cents. Thank you!

Elizabeth Lincoln is the Deputy Director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Jenny Schwope was an intern for the Office on the Economic Status of Women.

I believe that I have had the opportunity to experience and help release a special element of Minnesota's history that many people, both young and old, would never have had the to opportunity explore. Having such a key role in this project has certainly opened my eyes to the struggles and disparities that women in the state of Minnesota faced and even continue to face, but it came with both reassurance and some shock that as women, our equity was not always ensured -- we were not perceived as equals, nor did we have access to many of the opportunities that we are so fortunate to experience today.

I had the challenging assignment to sort through the publications produced by the Office on the Economic Status of Women (and in its previous names) which helped me to see the progress and strides women have made over the last 90 years. Additionally, I set out to look into the historical past of women's lives and the legislation that directly impacted them after suffrage and before the Office was established. It was amazing how incredibly challenging it would be to uncover some of the most interesting pieces of legislation due to the lack of advocacy groups on behalf of women's rights and the lack of technology which we are privileged to have today which tracks all of these happenings. As the lead on making the initial list of legislation affecting Minnesota women, I tried to honor the experiences of a diverse population of women in Minnesota. While we could not include every law that was ever passed, we do offer an extensive variety of legislation which demonstrates that women's issues do touch many different entities that some may never think about.

Given my background in women's studies, I was not shocked by the timing of some of the bills that passed through the legislature and when they did. However, I can note that I was proud of Minnesota for charging ahead of the federal legislation in some legislative areas, such as domestic violence, and for taking the initiative in strengthening certain policies to make them more sound, such as parental leave.

It has been a true pleasure having the opportunity to share this sphere of information that may have gone overlooked in Minnesota's history. Furthermore, we hope that this project continues to blossom for the future and have a lasting impact on generations to come.