MPR News highlighted 15 influential Minnesotans for Women’s History Month. Here are their stories

A collage of six women
Top, left to right: Sunisa Lee, Ann Bancroft, Mitra Jalali. Bottom, left to right: Dyani White Hawk, Leigh Finke and Maya Moore.
Tony Gutierrez | AP, Ben Garvin for MPR News, Ben Hovland | MPR News, MacArthur Foundation and Hannah Foslien | Getty Images and Ben Hovland | MPR News

For Women’s History Month, MPR News highlighted influential Minnesotans. From athletes to politicians, here are the Minnesota women making a difference.

Each week, we had several radio segments about women in our community making a difference. Below you will find the embedded audio and information on those featured. Thank you for celebrating with us.

Ann Kim, chef

Chef Ann Kim is the first woman of color in Minnesota to be named a James Beard Best Chef in the Midwest.

“My journey has not been easy, it has not been linear, and it has not been traditional, but here I stand,” she said.

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Kim entered the food scene with woodfired pizza with Korean flavors inspired by her time in New York. In 2022, she was on Chef’s Table on Netflix. Now, she owns four restaurants (Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza, Young Joni and Kim’s) where she says she wants to continue changing the culture of the industry.

— Alanna Elder

​Chef Ann Kim owns Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza, Young Joni and Kim's.
Courtesy of the The Restaurant Project
Women's History Month: Ann Kim

Natalie Hudson, chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court

Justice Natalie Hudson became the first woman of color to lead the Minnesota Supreme Court four months ago. She is one of only a few Black justices in state history.

“When you’re the first person of color, you recognize the representational value of that because it’s so important for our little girls, Black girls, Black boys, women to see women and people of color in positions of authority, to dream for that,” she said.

Hudson graduated from the University of Minnesota law school in 1982.

— Aleesa Kuznetsov

A woman holds up her right and while her left is placed on a bible
Natalie Hudson is sworn-in as the twenty-third Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court during a ceremony at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on Nov. 27.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023
Women's History Month: Natalie Hudson

Jessie Diggins, cross-country skier and Olympian

Jessie Diggins made history when she won the United States’ first-ever cross-country skiing gold medal at the Winter Olympics in 2018. Since then, she has gone on to become the most decorated American cross-country skier of all time.

She has been open about sharing her struggles with mental health, including an eating disorder.

“I’m trying to change the culture of the sport for the better so that we can change the way we talk about and address mental health,” she said. “I want athletes to feel like they can talk to their coaches.”

Aleesa Kuznetsov

A cross-country skier celebates after a race
Jessie Diggins of the U.S. celebrates after finishing third in the women's 10K race on Feb. 18 at the Stifel Loppet Cup World Cup cross-country ski event at Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
Federico Modica | NordicFocus | Getty Images
Women's History Month: Jessie Diggins

Mitra Jalali, St. Paul City Council President

Being a first isn’t new for Mitra Jalali. In 2018, she became the first Iranian American elected official in Minnesota. She also became the first Asian American woman and first openly LGBTQ+ member of the St. Paul City Council.

Six years later, St. Paul made history as the first major U.S. city that elected all women to its City Council, with the majority being women of color.

“The number of people who cried yesterday, who told me that they cried, women who told me that they’ve just never seen anything like this in their lifetime, moms who brought their young girls — just so many young women in the audience, just so many people of all backgrounds, I felt overjoyed.”

— Sam Stroozas

A woman raises her hand as she is sworn in
Incoming St. Paul city council president Mitra Jalali is sworn-in during a ceremony at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 9.
Ben Hovland | MPR News
Women's History Month: Mitra Jalali

Taylor Heise, forward for Minnesota’s Professional Women’s Hockey League

During Taylor Heise’s time at the University of Minnesota, Heise scored over 200 points in five seasons. After graduation, she was the first overall draft pick for the new professional women’s hockey league.

Minnesota’s team took the ice on Jan. 6 and made attendance history. Heise says she feels proud to be surrounded by so many strong women.

“I see all these strong women beside me every single day pushing me to be better,” she said. “And to not only do this for me, but to do it for the people in the locker room, as well as the little girls in the stand … we know that this is more than just us, it’s bigger than us.”

She plans to try out for team USA for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

— Lisa Ryan

Hockey game#
Minnesota forward Taylor Heise (27) regains the puck during Minnesota's first home game against Montreal on Jan. 6. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Nicole Neri for MPR News
Women's History Month: Taylor Heise

Jillian Hiscock, owner and founder of ‘A Bar of Their Own’

A Bar of Their Own is the first women’s sports in the Midwest and fourth in the country. They exclusively show women’s sports.

On opening day, the bar flooded with patrons, many wearing a shirt that read: “Everyone watches women’s sports.” Hiscock said she felt overwhelmed, but in the best way possible.

“I think it’s a really monumental day, and it is important to me that this was done in the community,” she said.

A month later, the line to enter the bar is still often out the door, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

— Sam Stroozas

A woman looks up and laughs
Jillian Hiscock, owner of A Bar of Their Own, chats with patrons during a pre-opening party for donors and friends of the bar at A Bar of Their Own on Feb. 26.
Nicole Neri for MPR News
Women's History Month: Jillian Hiscock

Maya Moore, former Minnesota Lynx basketball player and Olympian

Maya Moore wanted to be in the WNBA since it started in 1997. She says she knew she could have a future as a professional athlete, and she was right. Moore won two NCAA titles with the University of Connecticut, four WNBA championships with the Minnesota Lynx and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA.

Then, she put her career on hold to help overturn the wrongful conviction of Jonathan Irons, a man who is now her husband.

“I needed to be more present for his fight and more present at home and kind of get that restful rhythm and create space in my life to be able to actually engage in this super meaningful once in a lifetime experience,” she said.

The Minnesota Lynx are retiring Moore’s jersey number at a home against the Indiana Fever on Aug. 24.

— Alanna Elder

A woman raises her hands in excitement
Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx pumps up the crowd in the final minute of Game Five of the WNBA Finals against the Los Angeles Sparks on Oct. 4, at Williams in Minneapolis. The Lynx defeated the Sparks 85-76 to win the championship.
Hannah Foslien | Getty Images 2017
Women's History Month: Maya Moore

Pilar Stier, first Latina police chief in Minnesota

In November, Pilar Stier made history as the first Latina police chief in Minnesota when she was sworn in. She moved to the U.S. from Argentina as a teenager and worked for the state patrol for two decades.

Stier, who works in La Sueur, says the last thing she wants people to think about is her gender or ethnicity.

“In my mind, I needed to prove that I was just a good trooper,” Stier said. “I feel like I can relate to different people better, and that’s not just being Hispanic or Latino, that is being a woman, somebody that was under the poverty level, someone that hunts and fishes.”

— Nicole Johnson

A woman raises her hand
Pilar Stier during her swearing in ceremony in Le Sueur.
Mankato Free Press
Women's History Month: Pilar Stier

Laura Hauge, basketball player at St. Croix Lutheran Academy

Sharpshooter Laura Hauge says a positive mind is key when she is on the basketball court. In December, she scored her 459th three-pointer, beating the Minnesota State High School record. She says the feeling was surreal.

“I had so many fans, everyone stood up and it was just awesome,” Hauge said.

Yet, she still hears some comments questioning women’s basketball. In the era of the Caitlin Clark effect, she isn’t worried. For her, the negative comments just fuel her to prove them wrong.

Hauge will attend the University of St. Thomas in the fall to play Division I basketball.

— Sam Stroozas

A girl shoots a three-pointer at a basketball game
Laura Hauge scored her 459th three-pointer during on Dec. 12, 2023, breaking the Minnesota record.
Courtesy of Laura Hauge
Women's History Month: Laura Hauge

Sunisa Lee, gymnast and Olympian

By the time she was in middle school, Sunisa Lee was one of the best gymnasts in the country. At 16, she won the World Championship with Team USA. In 2021, she left the summer Olympics in Tokyo with a gold medal.

For Lee, she says the support she has felt from her family and the Hmong community inspires her.

“My community supports me a lot, I just don’t want to let them down so I kind of just go out there and compete for them,” she said.

— C.J. Younger

Sunisa Lee
Auburn's Sunisa Lee celebrates after competing in the vault during the NCAA college women's gymnastics championships on April 16, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gareth Patterson | AP 2022
Women's History Month: Sunisa Lee

Dyani White Hawk, artist and MacArthur fellow

Artist Dyani White Hawk was named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow, better know as the genius grant, in October. Her boldly colored art draws on her Lakota heritage and challenges many tropes and myths championed by western art history.

“First and foremost, honoring the legacy of Native art, of Indigenous art on this content — I speak from the history of the Lakota art form so I’m reflecting on the tremendous legacy and impact of Lakota women on our national artistic history.” White Hawk said.

Her abstract beaded and painted canvases reside in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, among others.

— Alex V. Cipolle

Person stands in studio with art02
Dyani White Hawk in her studio at the Casket Arts building in northeast Minneapolis.
Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Women's History Month: Dyani White Hawk

Leigh Finke, first openly transgender person to serve in the Minnesota Legislature

Leigh Finke is the state representative for 66-A, which includes part of St. Paul, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale and Roseville. She made history in November 2022 when she won her election, becoming the first openly transgender person to ever serve in the Minnesota Legislature.

The 42-year-old is unapologetically herself in every way: She sports colorful hair, skateboards during work breaks at the State Capitol, and rocks a tattoo portrait of the Bride of Frankenstein.

“I want to help my community and I want to help uplift all communities,” she said. “Trans activism really does lift all communities, because trans people are members of every community. If you’re fighting for undocumented people, you’re fighting for trans people. If you’re fighting for Indigenous communities, you’re fighting for trans people. We just exist everywhere.”

In 2023, USA Today recognized Finke’s work by naming her the Minnesota honoree for Women of the Year.

— Feven Gerezgiher

A woman holds a skateboard in front of a capitol building
Rep. Leigh Finke, the first transgender lawmaker elected to the Minnesota Legislature, poses for a photo in front of the State Capitol in St. Paul on June 6.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023
Women's History Month: Leigh Finke

Jael Kerandi, first Black undergraduate student body president at the University of Minnesota

During her time as the first Black Undergraduate Student Body President at the University of Minnesota, Jael Kerandi was instrumental in getting the school to divest from the Minneapolis Police Department. On May 26, 2020, George Floyd’s life had just been taken by Minneapolis police officers.

“There was no way I couldn’t say anything,” she said. “And there’s no reason and a campus that states and has diversity and equity statements that we would need a police force on our campus that directly disregarded Black lives, and in fact, eliminated it.”

Kerandi wrote a concerned letter to university leadership, garnering thousands of signatories, and gave then-President Joan Gabel 24 hours to respond, which Gabel did, promising the U would cease contracting with MPD for support during large campus events and for specialized services.

— Gracie Stockton

portrait of a Black woman
Jael Kerandi, the first Black undergraduate student body president at the U.
Courtesy of Jael Kerandi
Women's History Month: Jael Kerandi

Ann Bancroft, first woman to finish a number of expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic

Ann Bancroft was an adventurer from a young age growing up in St. Paul. She attributes her curiosity about the outdoors to her parents. 

“I took canoe trips with my mother and father,” she said. “They always let me camp out, they never told me I couldn’t do it, so they were quite encouraging.”

When Bancroft was 30, she joined an international north pole expedition. She became the first woman to ever make her way to the North Pole on foot and by sled. Later, she became the first woman to cross both polar ice caps to reach the North and South Poles.

In 1995, Ann was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

— Ellen Finn

A woman smiles
Arctic explorer and author Ann Bancroft in the woods near her home in Marine on St. Croix on Feb. 2.
Ben Garvin for MPR News | 2023
Women's History Month: Ann Bancroft

Natalie Shaw, actress

Natalie Shaw is a Fargo native, lifelong performer and University of Minnesota class of 2019 alumna. Shaw headed to New York after graduation to try to get her big break and faced a lot of rejection.

But, after several rounds of auditions, she landed the leading role of Cady Heron in the national tour of “Mean Girls the Musical.” More than half a year into touring, she said Broadway life has been “exhilarating and exhausting,” but her Midwest supporters keep her going.

“I feel very honored to be part of a small town,” she said. “The reception was very big and not even North Dakota but Minnesota, my friends from college ... I have never been so loved and supported and respected in my life.”

— Gracie Stockton

A woman smiles for a photo
Natalie Shaw is currently on tour for Broadway's Mean Girls the Musical.
Courtesy photo
Women's History Month: Natalie Shaw

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