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Founded in 1973, The DFL Feminist Caucus gave women a stronger voice in the party

The caucus started with a focus on advocating for feminist positions on issues like poverty among women, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

historical photo of women at political meeting
Kate Wulf (center) and Jeri Rasmussen (right) at the 1982 DFL convention, Duluth. From box 1, folder 1 (Photographs: Annual meetings, 1974, 1981–1983) of the DFL Feminist Caucus papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. Photograph by Kathy H. Drazen.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Feminist Caucus was founded in 1973 to advocate for feminist positions on issues like poverty among women, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Its members lobbied the Minnesota State Legislature, endorsed candidates, and produced a US Senate candidate of their own in 1984.

In 1971 a commission led by Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party State Chair Koryne Horbal published a report titled “Women in the DFL: Present but Powerless.” This analysis of women’s roles in the DFL found that “even the ‘open’ and ‘accessible’ DFL yields a record of inequality so far as women are concerned.” It urged the foundation of women’s caucuses to advocate for women’s rights.

In April 1973 frustration with both the DFL Women’s Caucus and the non-partisan Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus led Horbal and six other “founding mothers” to form the DFL Feminist Caucus (DFLFC). The other six women were Mary Pattock Bremer, Cynthia Kitlinski, Yvette Oldendorf, Jeri Rasmussen, Mary Peek, and Peggy Spektor. Prominent female politicians like Secretary of State Joan Growe, State Representative Phyllis Kahn, and State Representative Linda Berglin also joined the caucus, which included male members like 1982 US Senate candidate Mark Dayton.

The DFLFC supported thirteen principles, including resolutions to support the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, “economic justice for women at home and in the work force,” and feminists seeking election at all levels of government. The caucus only endorsed candidates who actively supported all of its principles. In 1974 Horbal gave the first “Feminist State of the State” address, which advocated for more jobs for women, increased child care funding, the ERA, abortion rights, and subsidies for women’s health.

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As the DFLFC grew its membership and supported the candidacies of women like Secretary Growe, it became a controversial force within Minnesota politics and the DFL. In 1977 it helped lobby for the passage of a bill guaranteeing rights to displaced homemakers. Lobbying by the caucus’s executive committee helped secure Governor Rudy Perpich’s appointment of Rosalie Wahl as the first woman on the state’s Supreme Court. Moreover, in 1979 the caucus secured funding of $3 million to create Minnesota’s first battered women’s shelter. In 1980 a caucus member, Claire Rumpel, who had been associate chair in 1978 and 1979, became the State DFL party chair.

However, the group members’ advocacy for the ERA and abortion rights brought them into conflict with other DFLers. Their intense arguments with pro-life advocates at the June 1977 Minnesota Women’s Meeting in St. Cloud prompted negative backlash directed at Perpich and Secretary Growe. In 1978 they failed to prevent the passage of a bill, sponsored by DFL legislators Ray Kempe and Florian Chemielewski, that cut off funding for abortion services to poor women.

In the 1980s the DFLFC continued to fight for feminist issues and place its supported candidates in prominent statewide races. In 1984 Secretary Growe, a longtime supporter of the DFLFC, won the DFL nomination for US Senate; in 1986 St. Paul Mayor George Latimer chose longtime member Arvonne Fraser to be his running mate in the DFL gubernatorial primary. While neither was successful, the DFLFC had secured a prominent place in determining the DFL’s candidates and party platform.

The DFLFC has advocated for progressive causes and supported feminist candidates at all levels of political involvement. Minneapolis’ passage of same-sex domestic partnership legislation in 1991 was attributed by city council member Brian Coyle to a 1989 attitudes survey performed by the DFLFC. The caucus was a prominent supporter of the mayoral candidacies of Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, and St. Paul candidates Marlene Johnson and Sandy Pappas. As of 2018, it remains an active organization.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.