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4 Minnesotans to Celebrate During Women’s History Month.

Happy Women’s History Month! March is a time to celebrate the incredible contributions that women have made throughout Minnesota’s history.

We are highlighting four of the bold women of Minnesota whose accomplishments have shaped our state into a progressive haven in the Midwest.

Nellie Stone Johnson

Nellie Stone Johnson was an iconic figure in Minnesota organizing and the history of our state. She was an African-American union and civil rights leader. Born in 1905, her activist career helped to shape what the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party is today.

Johnson’s family were farmers in Dakota County. Once she graduated high school, she worked as an elevator operator at the Minneapolis Athletic Club. 

Johnson was one of the first women to sit on her local union’s contract-negotiating committee. She pushed to end in-house segregation of eating and locker room facilities.

She continued pushing for change and was elected vice president of her local union in 1936. Her deep involvement in the Farmer-Labor Association and the United Labor Committee impressed local politicians, who sought her support.

She helped create a merged Democratic and Farmer-Labor Party with the faith that the DFL party would be multi-racial and labor-oriented. In 1945, she became the first Black official elected to citywide office in Minneapolis. She also established the city’s first fair employment department. Her labor and civil rights activism created so much opportunity for all Minnesotans.

Dr. Jane Hodgson

Dr. Hodgson changed the lives of many rural Minnesotans during her career.

She was born in Crookston, Minnesota in 1915. While she was anti-choice at the beginning of her career, her experience working in hospitals changed her. She saw many patients who suffered due to the abortion ban. Dr. Hodgson began to see that abortion was essential health care and spent the rest of her career providing reproductive health care.

In 1970, Dr. Hodgson agreed to perform an abortion on a patient despite the ban on abortion in Minnesota. Her patient was a 23-year-old mother of three who had contracted rubella during her fourth pregnancy. Dr. Hodgson was at the mercy of the legal system for two years before Roe v. Wade overturned her conviction.

She became an advocate in the field of reproductive health and would regularly fly to Duluth to treat residents of rural Minnesota and Canada. As the only abortion doctor within hundreds of miles, she delivered precious health care to rural communities.

Leigh Finke

Leigh Finke became the first openly transgender legislator in Minnesota in 2022 when she won her election for the Minnesota House of Representatives. 

Representative Finke is committed to expanding protections for trans, queer, and LGBTQ people of all ages. She ran on a promise to fight to protect abortion in Minnesota. Her election to the Minnesota Legislature was part of a historic wave of young, queer, and diverse lawmakers entering government across the U.S. 

She wrote a bill to protect access to gender-affirming health care, and it passed, making Minnesota one of the first “trans refuge” states in the nation. After the bill passed, Finke delivered a message to all LGBTQ+ people: 

“To all those families across the United States that are afraid and wondering where they can go for help, Minnesota is saying we see you, we love you, and you belong here.” 

Her accomplishments during her first legislative session were historic, and Minnesota is lucky to have her. 

She also is the Executive Director of Queer Equity Institute, a nonprofit that builds civic engagement and LGBTQ2IA+ leadership in Minnesota and across the U.S. 

Nadia Mohamed

Last November, Nadia Mohamed was elected the mayor of St. Louis Park. She is the city’s first Black mayor in 170 years, Minnesota’s first Somali American mayor, and the second known Somali mayor in U.S. history. 

Mohamed’s family immigrated to St. Louis Park when she was ten. She grew up in the St. Louis Park School District. In 2020, Mohamed took office on the City Council at just 23 years old, making her the youngest person ever to serve on the St. Louis Park City Council. 

Mohamed’s mother uprooted her life in Somalia to create a life for her kids. Today, Mohamed represents a new generation of progressive leadership.

Plus one more!

Kari Dziedzic 

Kari began her work in politics as an aide for Minnesota’s beloved Senator Paul Wellstone. She was initially elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2012 and has served District 60 since (as well as District 59 for a short period before redistricting). Dziedzic was selected by her peers as Majority Leader in 2023 and lead one of the most productive and consequential legislative sessions in Minnesota history.

Kari recently had to step down from the majority leadership position due to a recurrence of her cancer. But her hard work and leadership for the people of Minnesota does not go uncelebrated. Erin Murphy, the new Majority Leader, expressed our feelings perfectly when she said: “She showed us that if we choose to stick together and act together, we can do important things for people of Minnesota to improve their lives…”

Despite stepping down from the Majority Leader position, Kari continues to work hard for Minnesotans. This session, she proposed a bill to have insurance cover wigs for people with cancer, and she was named the Chair of the State and Local Government and Veterans Committee.

We are deeply grateful for Senator Dziedzic’s leadership in the first year of the session and beyond. Thank you, Senator Dziedzic, and we are rooting for your recovery.

Our state wouldn’t be wouldn’t be what it is without these women

There is still so much work to be done and history to be made, and progressive women are leading the charge to make our state more equitable for all.

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