Mar 18, 2022 - News

5 Minnesota women who shaped history

 It’s Nellie Stone Johnson, Sarah Burger Stearns and Pat Bellanger

From left to right, Nellie Stone Johnson, Sarah Burger Stearns and Pat Bellanger. Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

We're more than halfway through Women's History Month, a time to reflect on the contributions of women who shaped our world.

Why it matters: Our state wouldn't be what it is without the women who fought for equal rights, education, fair labor practices and more in Minnesota.

Here are five Minnesota women you should know about:

Fighting for organized labor: Union organizer Nellie Stone Johnson helped form the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party in the 1940s.

  • In 1945, she became the first Black official elected to citywide office in Minneapolis. She also established the city's first fair employment department.

Establishing the right to vote: Sarah Burger Stearns organized three major suffrage associations in Minnesota after her petition asking the state Legislature to strike the word "male" from voting requirements fell flat in 1867.

  • She advocated for women across the state and went on to co-found the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association in the early 1880s, serving as the group's first president.

Finding new homes: As one of the first Japanese Americans to resettle in St. Paul during World War II, Ruth Nomura Tanbara helped over 100 evacuees leave internment camps on the West Coast and relocate to the Twin Cities.

  • She worked with the St. Paul Resettlement Committee, finding new residents housing and employment.

A voice for Native education: Known by the nickname "Grandmother AIM," Pat Bellanger co-founded the activist organization American Indian Movement in 1968.

  • She led the survival schools movement in the Twin Cities, providing alternative education for Indigenous children facing racism in the public school system.

Exploring a new frontier: St. Paul teacher Ann Bancroft quit her job to join trailblazing Arctic expeditions, and became the first woman to reach the North Pole and South Pole on foot and sled.

  • She's since led all-female expeditions worldwide and skied across Antarctica.

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