“You are a nice lady, but a woman probably can’t win,” community leaders advised Rochester resident Nancy Brataas during her 1970s campaign for Minnesota State Senate. It was a common theme for women in politics at that time.
When it came to Brataas, those skeptics were right about one thing: she is a nice lady. But they were wrong about the future of women in public policy as Nancy Brataas became Minnesota’s first female senator in her own right in 1975 (Laura Emilia Naplin was technically the first female senator when she filled her deceased husband’s senate seat from 1927 to 1934.) During her 17 years of service, Senator Brataas lists two of her most important legislative victories as the passing of the first Rochester local option sales tax and the positive disposition of the closed Rochester State Hospital. She also successfully recruited and championed her successor—another woman, Sheila Kiscaden. Today, she advises young people, regardless of gender, to “jump with both feet into the ocean of public affairs and civic activities.”
Rosemary Ahmann earned the nickname the “Godmother of Community Corrections” for her work in public service from 1972-1981. In November 1972, she was the first woman to run for and win election to the County Board of Commissioners in Olmsted County.
During her career, she was on numerous state and national taskforces and commissions and worked vigilantly to keep juveniles out of jail and establish group homes in Olmsted and Dodge Counties. She also advocated for a Minnesota community corrections law that provided money to local communities to develop jail alternatives for adult offenders, hence the nickname.
Signs of change
In March 1971, Carol Kamper entered the race for Rochester City Council, Sixth Ward on a dare. She ran alongside two men—one of whom owned a sign company. Kamper called her campaign “a shoestring operation of innocence.”
She and other willing supporters pounded signs into the snow, but her chances seemed bleak, especially against the sign company owner who put up hundreds of yard signs and was a “good old boy.” Despite these disadvantages, Kamper won and became the first woman elected to the Rochester City Council.
Seeing is believing
Inspired by her “backwoods lawyer” grandfather, Ancy Tone Morse was the only woman in her law school graduating class of 1959 and the only woman admitted to the Minnesota Bar that year. She soon gained a job with the Hennepin County Legal Aid Association, a valuable learning experience for a young lawyer.
One day she was interviewing a client who seemed distressed. She asked what was troubling him; he replied that he had hoped to meet with a lawyer. Morse told him she was an attorney. He gasped, “My God, now I’ve seen everything!” Morse later became the first female attorney in Olmsted County and, in 1983, the first female district court judge in rural Minnesota.
These four inspiring Rochester women are among 25 featured in “Taking the Lead,” a new book sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Filled with detailed accounts of women in Rochester, Olmsted County and Minnesota state politics, it is enduring and memorable. For more information about “Taking the Lead,” which comes out later this year, contact Amy Caucutt, 507-289-1327.