Kathleen Ridder | 94

The Republican activist and ardent feminist was a benefactor of women's sports at the University of Minnesota and pushed to elect more women. 

Kathleen Ridder reached to shake the hand of the University of Minnesota student — one of the many female athletes who benefited from her generosity.

In this case, Ridder was disappointed. The student didn’t look her in the eye and her handshake was weak. “You need to shape her up,” she later told Chris Voelz, then head of the U’s women’s athletic department.

Ridder wanted women to be strong and competent, Voelz explained. She fiercely fought for equal access and opportunities for women and stepped up with her dollars to make that a reality.

“She was a force to be reckoned with,” Voelz said. Ridder could easily call the governor or sit down and talk with “million-dollar people,” Voelz said.

But she was clearly different from many of them. “She thought it was more important what book you were reading than the coat you were wearing,” Voelz said.

She was outspoken and irreverent. She ignored condescending comments from men and focused on the fight.

Ridder simply believed that some battles are won because you don’t give up, said Deborah Olson, longtime supporter of Gophers women’s hockey.

In 1981, Marlene Johnson, Minnesota’s first female lieutenant governor and a DFLer, was riding a train to Duluth with Ridder when they conceived the idea for a bipartisan organization to get more women elected to office.

With that, the Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund, now known as Womenwinning, was born. Since 1982, Womenwinning has supported “thousands of women with millions of dollars,” said Lauren Beecham, executive director.

“Kathleen’s vision was to change the face of power.”

Mary Lynn Smith