Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The fight against a power line helped launch Alice Tripp’s brief political career

As proposed by two partnering utility companies, the CU Powerline would have stood 150 feet tall and cut across 8,000 acres of farmland in North Dakota and Minnesota. The plan sparked outrage in western Minnesota for its indifference toward small family farms.

historical photo of alice tripp walking in parade
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Alice Tripp marching with her campaign manager, Dick Hanson, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of women’s suffrage (1978). Printed in the Minneapolis Tribune, August 27, 1978.
A self-proclaimed “jumper-inner,” Alice Tripp made her mark as a grassroots activist and self-taught farmer. She was a key leader of a movement opposing the CU Powerline, which began construction on western Minnesota farmland in the early 1970s. Tripp went on to steer a surprisingly successful gubernatorial campaign, and even briefly tried her luck in the 1980 presidential election.

Alice Raattama Tripp was born on the Iron Range in 1918 to Finnish and Swedish immigrant parents. While attending Hibbing Junior College, she fell in love with her chemistry lab partner, John Tripp. The two married in 1942, shortly after Alice’s graduation from Lawrence College in Wisconsin.

The couple moved frequently during their first years of marriage, jumping between big cities like Detroit and Chicago. Then, in 1957, the Tripps moved back to Minnesota to buy a 250-acre farm just west of St. Cloud. The move was a shock for them both, as neither had any farming experience. Alice and her family depended on books to build their agricultural knowledge and worked long hours to establish their fifty-cow dairy farm.

Tripp spent much of the next decade raising her four children and keeping up with the demands of the farm. She later taught English for ten years at nearby Belgrade High School. Yet the early 1970s gave rise to the CU Powerline Controversy, which quickly captured Tripp’s attention.

Article continues after advertisement

As proposed by two partnering utility companies, the CU Powerline would have stood 150 feet tall and cut across 8,000 acres of farmland in North Dakota and Minnesota. The plan sparked outrage in western Minnesota for its indifference toward small family farms. Area farmers worried about threats to their health and livestock, difficulties during planting and harvesting, and loss of land. A grassroots movement in opposition to the power line was born.

Tripp attended her first anti-power-line meeting in the spring of 1976 and soon became a key voice of the movement. At first, Tripp and other protestors tried to reason with government representatives and utility company officials. Ultimately, however, they were given few provisions and little say in the fate of their land.

As the power line plans moved forward, Tripp joined other farmers in active opposition of the line. In addition to attending hearings at the State Capitol and petitioning lawmakers, Tripp protested on her home turf. Her methods of resistance varied from presenting an armed state trooper with flowers to throwing snow into a cement truck to delay construction. Tripp also explained that she would have joined the Bolt Weevils—a group of farmers who dismantled power lines—if only she had been handy with a wrench. Though always nonviolent, Tripp was arrested three times for her participation in anti-power-line protests.

I

Not surprisingly, Tripp lost the Democratic Primary to incumbent governor Rudy Perpich. Yet the grassroots organizer entered the general election anyway and won 20 percent of votes statewide. Though she lost the election, the widespread support was a victory for Tripp. She had spent only $5,000 on her campaign.

In 1980, Tripp decided to enter the presidential election, seizing the opportunity to gain exposure for the anti-power-line movement. Ultimately, she was unable to gain the required number of delegate signatures. She instead endorsed socialist congressman Ron Dellums and spoke in his support at the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City.

Despite the tireless efforts of Tripp and other area farmers, the CU Powerline became fully operational in August of 1979. Soon afterwards, in the early 1980s, Tripp and her husband retired from farming and moved to Scandinavian Lake, where they lived for twenty-five years. Tripp died in 2014 at the age of ninety-six.

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