Celebrating A Woman In PoliticsMarch 23, 2017
By Tony Kirwin, VP Operations / General Counsel
I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about my grandma as part of our series of posts about Women’s History Month.
My grandpa died in 1951 when my Dad was only eight months old and my grandma was in her early 30s. They lived on a farm in rural western Minnesota — the kind of place where neighbors lived miles down the road and the closest town had 100 people, two grain elevators and a single stop sign. My grandma, then a teacher, decided to keep and run the farm, and to raise my dad and his older brother and sister there. Unfortunately, my grandma died quite early as well, years before I was born, so I only know her through stories I’ve heard.
I know my grandma was a force to be reckoned with. Raising three kids in the 1950s and ’60s as a young, single woman running a 320-acre farm with livestock and crops in the middle of nowhere is a giant feat. That takes a level of resourcefulness, creativity and hard work that very few people know. Although I never met her, it’s easy to see in my dad, his siblings, and in younger generations, how my grandma and these experiences had a huge impact on my entire family.
But what I’ve learned more recently is that, on top of everything else, my grandma had a much broader impact as a pioneer in local politics. In the early ’50s, not long after the formation of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, she was appointed as a DFL county chairperson and held that position for nearly two decades before she died. She played a central role in local political organizing and in supporting local, state and national candidates. This was at a time when few women were involved in politics and even fewer in rural communities. I’ve heard stories about my grandma shunning any notion that women didn’t get involved by leading campaign rallies and giving speeches. She was often the only woman in rooms full of men, advocating on behalf of farmers and in support of a host of other DFL issues.
About a month ago, we found boxes containing decades’ worth of correspondence and other documents from my grandma. There were dozens of published letters to the editor, memorabilia from attending state conventions, and even more letters to my grandma from governors, representatives, senators, vice presidents and even presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The extent and duration of her involvement in politics was a bit of a revelation.
Fortunately, this type of political involvement, which was both rare and remarkable 50 years ago, is now commonplace. We’re still not where we need to be on equality, and there’s much more to do, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the people who have helped get us where we are today.