The Congresswoman Whose Husband Called Her Home : It’s All Politics : NPR
Fifty-six years ago this weekend, newspapers across the nation told a sad tale of a family seemingly imploding.
At the center of the story was Coya Knutson, the opera-singing daughter of a Norwegian farmer, and the first woman from Minnesota elected to Congress.
Voted in on her own merits, not appointed to keep a late husband’s seat warm for a successor, the trailblazing mother could only watch as vengeful party rivals, a manufactured scandal, and a feckless, alcoholic husband combined to sabotage her career.
It all came to a head on the eve of Mother’s Day 1958.
It was because of an infamous letter, signed by husband Andy back in tiny Oklee, Minn., but widely believed to have been written by grudge-driven operatives in the congresswoman’s own party, the progressive Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party.
The letter — urging her to abandon the nation’s capital and return to hearth and home — was first published in a regional newspaper under the headline, “Coya Come Home.”
Mr. SABO. Mr. Speaker, today I would like to pay tribute to Coya
Knutson, the only Minnesota woman ever elected to the U.S. House of
Representatives, who died in October at the age of 84.
Unlike most of the women serving at the time, she felt no need to
make the big men like her. It was that trait, combined with a real
dedication to the job, that tells the real story of Coya Knutson.
During her 4 years in Washington, she did much to pave the way for
women who would later serve in Congress. She overcame obstacles and
pushed down barriers that women today no longer encounter. She served
with grace and accepted defeats without bitterness. Coya Knutson showed
the Nation that a woman’s place is not only in the home, but also in
the House. For that, Mr. Speaker, the Nation owes Minnesota
Congresswoman Coya Knutson a tremendous debt of gratitude.