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Looking back at the first women in Minnesota's Legislature

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Mabeth Hurd Paige
Mabeth Hurd Paige Photographer: Eugene G. Garrett Photograph Collection ca. 1920
Courtesy of the Minnesota History Center

March is women's history month, and as part of our regular conversations about Minnesota history we asked St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict history professor Annette Atkins to tell us about some women trailblazers in various fields. 

As an example, 89 years ago there were just four women in the Minnesota legislature. They were the first women elected after women got the right to vote in 1920.

Two of those women are fascinating footnotes in legislative history. 

Myrtle Cain was elected to the Minnesota House in 1922, after leading a strike of the Minnesota telephone operators union in 1918. She ran as a member of the liberal caucus. In 1924, she lost her re-election bid. 

Cain continued to be an advocate for women's rights throughout her life. In 1973, she testified on behalf of the federal equal rights amendment. She died on February 6, 1980.

Mabeth Hurd Paige was also elected to the Minnesota House in 1922, representing Hennepin County and a member of the Republican Party. Before moving to Minnesota, Paige studied art in Paris and earned a degree in art at the Massachusetts art school in Boston. She attended the University of Minnesota law school and was the only woman in her graduating class. 

Paige served in the Minnesota house until 1945, and died on August 19, 1961.

Today, of the 201 Minnesotans serving in the Legislature in the 2011-2012 session, 65 are women: 44 in the house and 21 in the senate.