Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, has covered state government and politics for more than 30 years.

Coya returns for her centenary

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: August 22, 2012 - 6:26 AM

Coya Knutson was a feminist before her time. She was a gifted, misunderstood politician from northwestern Minnesota, sabotaged after two terms in Congress by suspicious, resentful men in her own DFL Party. They persuaded her estranged alcoholic husband to famously plead, “Coya Come Home.”

That politically devastating appeal became the title of a too-little-noticed Knutson biography written by Gretchen Urnes Beito of Thief River Falls and published by Pomegranate Press in 1990. The book has recently been rereleased in a paperback limited edition, underwritten by the Minnesota-based Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, in honor of what would have been Knutson’s 100th birthday.

In a year when women’s rights and political roles are again an issue in national politics, “Coya Come Home” is worth a fresh look. It’s the story of a talented woman stuck in a rural area and a bad marriage in the 1940s and 1950s. She sought fulfillment through public service, and was good at it. But she also became the target of jealousy and personal gossip when she proved too independent for male political bosses to control.

It would be another decade after Knutson’s 1958 reelection defeat before a more women began agitating for the political power Knutson attempted to wield. Had she been born in 1922 or 1932 instead of 1912, she likely would today be remembered as a pioneer in a burgeoning Minnesota feminist movement.

Instead, Knutson is a tragic figure whose defeat set back Minnesota women’s quest for political opportunity. The state would not elect another woman to Congress until 42 years after Knutson’s defeat. Her story and its aftermath can instruct a new generation to stand together and stand strong against anti-female bias. 

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