From the beginning, the St. Paul City Council looked a lot like this council photo from 1916 — all men.

Minnesota Historical Society

Slowly, after the first woman was elected in the ’50s, it started to look more like this council photo from 1984.

Star Tribune

This year, for the first time, the City Council is going to look like this — all women.

The incoming St. Paul City Council, from left: Nelsie Yang, Saura Jost, Rebecca Noecker, Anika Bowie, Cheniqua Johnson, Mitra Jalali, Hwa Jeong Kim.

Asmeret Photography

From one to all

When St. Paul’s new City Council is sworn in on Tuesday, all of its seats will be filled by women for the first time in the city’s 170-year history. Some say that St. Paul may well be the largest American city to ever elect an all-female council or legislative body.

“I think we’ve been writing this story for a while,” Hwa Jeong Kim said after winning election to the council in November. “To place yourself in the middle of this timeline, it feels very historic.”

Like her six colleagues, Kim has a list of several women elected to office who served as her mentors. And those women also credit female leaders for wisdom and guidance.

“There are people that have come before us that have envisioned this happening in some regard and have been investing in the change around women running for office,” Kim said. “They’ve been speaking it into existence years before a squad of ladies decided to run together.”

Here’s a look at some of the 20 women who have been elected to the St. Paul City Council over the past seven decades, along with the four incoming members who are making history this week.

St. Paul City Council members


Milton Rosen

Bernard Holland

Robert Peterson


Elizabeth DeCourcy

Frank Marzitelli

Severin Mortinson

Joseph Dillon

A widow with two young sons, Elizabeth DeCourcy — she preferred to be called “Mrs. Donald DeCourcy” back in that mid-century era — campaigned on the idea that “maybe a little tight rein on finances — like many of us homemakers have to apply in our homes — might be helpful for government,” she told the Minneapolis Tribune after becoming the first woman elected to the St. Paul City Council in 1956.

She made her first foray into politics with a failed bid for the Legislature in 1948, less than two years after her husband died of a heart attack. His life insurance policy sustained the family until she was elected to the Ramsey County Board in 1950, another first for women.

Michael DeCourcy said he remembers late-night calls to his mother, who was public utilities commissioner, to report water main breaks. He and his brother would sit outside smoke-filled rooms at City Hall while their mother swapped votes and negotiated deals.

“They were really strong, tough guys,” he said. “And they were not happy with having Mrs. Donald M. DeCourcy sitting at the table. But she held her own with them.”

The Minneapolis Tribune, June 6, 1956


Adrian Winkel




Frank Loss

George Vavoulis


DeCourcy served on the council for six years before losing her bid for a fourth term. She was elected to the Ramsey County Board again in 1966, where she served for eight more years. She died in 2004.

“She was very proud of who she was and her family, and just the fact that she was a woman and opened the door for others,” said Michael DeCourcy, who followed in his mother’s footsteps and was elected to the Ramsey County District Court in 1990.

The Minneapolis Tribune, Sept. 13, 1950


James Dalglish




Dean Meredith


William Carlson

Thomas Byrne

Victor Tedesco



Robert Sprafka



Len Levine


Rosalie Butler

Charles McCarty

Two years after she lost a competitive race for mayor, Rosalie Butler was elected to the council in 1970. When she ran for reelection in 1972, she ran up the highest vote total ever recorded by a candidate for city office and became council president.

“Her words and her name evoke both outrage and ovation,” the Minneapolis Star said of Butler in a 1977 profile of the colorful, thrice-divorced mother of four who became a fixture of St. Paul city politics.

Butler entered the spotlight in 1966 when she was accused by City Council Member Milton Rosen of using DFL connections to get a state-owned plow to clear snow from her walk. Butler in turn accused Rosen of spending the public’s money “like a drunken sailor.” He lost his next election, while she would go on to earn the nickname “Butler the battler.”

Butler’s tenure as the council’s sole woman bolstered her appeal. “There was an image [among voters] that she wasn’t one of the good ol’ boys,” then-KSTP reporter Sherry Naughton Chenoweth said in 1979.

The Minneapolis Star, April 26, 1978


Roger Conway


William Konopatzki


Ruby Hunt

Described as a peacemaker and negotiator, Ruby Hunt served for 10 years on the council — and two as its president — during the 1970s and early ’80s, a time of big St. Paul personalities. She was most proud of the unflashy work she accomplished — what she called solid policymaking, not just headline-making.

“Everyone thinks of Ruby as someone who works for a solution that’s practical,” former state Rep. Kathleen Vellenga, who worked with Hunt on St. Paul issues, said in 1993. After Hunt left the council, she spent 12 years on the Ramsey County Board.

The Minneapolis Star, March 21, 1973


Patrick Roedler


David Hozza

John Christensen


Susan Kimberly

Susan Kimberly publicly transitioned from man to woman in 1983. Two years later, she came back to work in St. Paul politics, a decade after she had served on the St. Paul City Council under a different name.

“I was a well-known political figure in the Twin Cities when I came out and I think that was the first situation of that kind,” she told Time Magazine last year. “One of the first in the country. And I had this terrifying experience where the press corps from St. Paul and Minneapolis knew who I was, and wanted me to tell the story. And I concluded that the only way I was going to survive this was to tell the truth in depth.”

A staunch DFLer, Kimberly was named the city’s deputy mayor in 1995 by Mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican, and later switched parties. “I lost more friends becoming a Republican than I did becoming a woman,” she said in 2010. She ran Coleman’s state office when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, and later headed St. Paul’s planning department under Mayor Randy Kelly.

The Star Tribune, Feb. 13, 1985




Rosalie Butler

After stepping down to run for mayor in 1974 and subsequently losing the DFL primary, Butler reclaimed her council seat in 1976. Two years later, she bucked the party’s endorsement and won re-election as an independent, aligning herself with a campaign to repeal part of a city ordinance that protected gays and lesbians from discrimination.

She also crusaded against massage parlors and strip clubs. Business owners issued threats, but Butler was undeterred. “I’m too strong to keep down. A lesser person would have been destroyed,” she said in 1978. She died in office the following year.

The Minneapolis Star, August 3, 1979



Ron Maddox


Joanne Showalter

When Council Member Patrick Roedler retired in 1978, his legislative aide Joanne Showalter ran to replace him and won. She served as council president for two years and supported the creation of District Energy, which heats and cools downtown St. Paul buildings.

When she lost her bid for re-election in 1982, Showalter moved to Wilson, Wis., a small town in the St. Croix Valley. She bought a bar and also continued her political career as a Wilson City Council member and mayor. She died last year.

The Star Tribune, July 19, 1977



Bill Wilson

George McMahon


Creation of the modern ward system

Ward 1

Ward 2

Ward 3

Ward 4

Ward 5

Ward 6

Ward 7


Bill Wilson

Jim Scheibel

Len Levine

Bob Fletcher

Hugo Masanz

Chris Nicosia

Victor Tedesco


John Galles


John Drew


Kiki Sonnen

When then-City Council Member Bob Fletcher suddenly resigned from the council in 1984, he told his aide Kiki Sonnen: “Why don’t you run and carry on our work?”

“So that’s what I was trying to do — to keep a focus on what is good for the community,” Sonnen said in a recent interview. “I always believed that neighborhoods are the key to any city government or city progress.”

For her first year in office, Sonnen was the only woman on the council. “It was kind of strange,” she said, remembering an instance when her male colleagues made dirty jokes in the council chambers. “But you just kind of put up with it. And things got better.”

Sonnen’s interest in city government grew through her involvement with the St. Paul Audubon Society and Hamline Midway Coalition. Her activist background lent itself to a boots-on-the-ground political style. “Diplomacy, caution and compromise were foreign to the strong-minded political independent,” according to the Star Tribune in 1990.

Running as an independent, Sonnen defeated three candidates backed by the DFL before losing to Paula Maccabee in 1989.

“The women that I worked with on the City Council, they were more attuned than men to social issues like libraries, parks, supportive services,” Sonnen said.

Oct. 7, 1988




Janice Rettman

Janice Rettman, a 30-something single woman and a renter, first ran to represent Ward 5 in 1983 against incumbent Hugo Masanz, a 60-year-old union official and longtime homeowner. She lost that race but bested Masanz two years later by 85 votes.

“She represented people who have limited political power. And she fought for those people, and she didn’t forget about them,” Joe Collins, a longtime aide and friend to Rettman, told the Star Tribune after her death in November.

Rettman served 11 years on the council before winning election to the Ramsey County Board, where she served for 20 years before being defeated in 2018.

June 16, 1993



Eileen Weida

Eileen Weida was appointed to the council to complete the term of Victor Tedesco, who retired from his Ward 7 seat. Though she served on the council for only six months, her legacy lives on through her namesake park on Railroad Island, only a few blocks from where she raised six kids. A lifelong activist, she was diagnosed with cancer in December 1987 and died the next month.

July 2, 1987


Bob Long

Roger Goswitz

Tom Dimond



David Thune


Paula Maccabee

Paula Maccabee arrived at City Hall as a rising political star, ousting Sonnen with the endorsement of then-Mayor George Latimer and the DFL. But Maccabee’s time on the council was clouded by an accusation of sexual harassment made by her aide Mark Baloga, who sued her a year after he abruptly resigned.

“At least some of the reporters covering the event (all of the reporters were men) were having a difficult time understanding how a man could feel sexually harassed by a woman,” Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote in 1992.

Maccabee reluctantly agreed to settle the lawsuit after hearing advice from other council members and attorneys. “I am terribly disappointed the people of St. Paul will never learn what really happened,” she told the Star Tribune. “I am confident that my innocence would have prevailed.”

After leaving the council, Maccabee worked with the Sierra Club to protect children from school bus diesel fumes. She now works as a public interest lawyer, notably on environmental protection issues.

Maccabee and her husband, Paul. Star Tribune, Aug. 24, 1992




Marie Grimm

Dino Guerin

A legislative aide for Council Member Karl Neid, Marie Grimm was appointed to his seat on the council after he died shortly after taking office in 1992. A newbie to politics, she hit the ground running and learned quickly, winning a special election that November to serve out the rest of Neid’s term. Grimm won re-election after her appointed term ended.

“I spend 70 hours a week on the job,” she told the Star Tribune in 1993. “Very little of my life is left.”

May 30, 1993



Jerry Blakey

Michael Harris


Bobbi Megard

Bobbi Megard was a high school government teacher who became a fixture in local government, working for the St. Anthony Park Community Council and serving as president and executive director of the St. Paul League of Women Voters. She served two terms on the council and unsuccessfully sought the DFL endorsement for mayor in 1997 and 2001. She died in November.



Dan Bostrom


Joe Collins


Gladys Morton

Gladys Morton was appointed to the council to replace Mark Mauer, who had been appointed to replace Dino Guerin. She did not seek re-election after her term ended.


Chris Coleman

Jay Benanav

Jim Reiter


Kathy Lantry

Kathy Lantry, whose mother was a state senator and father a labor leader, loved her family name — so when she married, she kept it. Eventually she and her husband, Joe Fleischhacker, agreed to pass it on to their two sons.

A 1995 Star Tribune article about Lantry’s first council race describes an instance when her opponent, incumbent Guerin, playfully addressed her as “Mrs. Fleischhacker.” Lantry wasn’t pleased, but she kept her cool.

“I said, ‘I believe we’ve met. I’m Kathy Lantry,’ ” she recalled at the time. “They had a good laugh about it in the bathroom, I’ll bet.”

Though Lantry narrowly lost that contest, she was elected two years later to the council, where she went on to represent the East Side for 17 years before leading the city’s Public Works Department for another five.

Lantry was the only woman on the council during her first six years in office. Coming from a job at a property management company that was run by women and a family with “a super matriarchal background,” Lantry said she didn’t think much about how gender dynamics might come into play. “But it was lonely being the only woman,” she said in an interview.

“My big joke was: When women want to get something done, they don’t care who gets credit for it. They just want it done,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lantry became council president in 2004 that she felt she grew in confidence, leading a new liberal majority that often clashed with conservative DFL Mayor Randy Kelly.

“That’s when I was like, I’m not going to take the back seat any more,” Lantry said.




Patrick Harris






Debbie Montgomery

Dave Thune

Lee Helgen

Debbie Montgomery spent four decades working for the city — as a budget analyst, city planner and police sergeant — before friends and neighbors urged her to run for the council.

She represented Ward 1, the city’s most racially and economically diverse district — which included the old Rondo neighborhood where she had grown up, the historically Black community bisected by Interstate 94. Council Member Dan Bostrom described her as a straight shooter who “wanted to get stuff done.”

Montgomery doesn’t like to make a big deal of firsts. But she was St. Paul’s first female police officer and the first woman of color to serve on the council, and the city has named a section of Marshall Avenue for her.

“I never looked at it as a woman/man thing,” Montgomery said in a recent interview. “I just looked at it, ‘Here’s what’s gotta get done. What can you bring to the table that can help me get this done?’ ”

Montgomery said she received calls from reporters following the 2023 election who asked what she thought about the all-woman council. “My response was, ‘Great! What do they want to do?’” she said.





Melvin Carter

Russ Stark





Chris Tolbert


Amy Brendmoen

Amy Brendmoen cast herself as “a scrappy problem-solver” during her first council race, which she won by just 36 votes, ousting incumbent Lee Helgen. Lantry quickly took Brendmoen under her wing.

“She has wonderful energy, and I loved it like you would not believe it,” Lantry said. “I had been so used to going to so many events by myself.”

Brendmoen chaired the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority for three years before becoming council president, serving there for six years.

“I’m a Gen-Xer, and we suffered from baby boomers’ inability to pass the baton,” Brendmoen said when she announced in 2022 that she would not seek a fourth term. “When I got elected, I swore that I would always prioritize making space for new leaders when the time is right.”




Dai Thao


William Finney



Rebecca Noecker


Jane Prince

When Rebecca Noecker first campaigned for the council in 2015, she said voters considered her “a bit of a novelty” as a 29-year-old mom running to be the first woman to represent Ward 2.

Jane Prince, who at the same time was running unopposed for the Ward 7 seat, told the Star Tribune shortly after she won that she heard from voters who wanted to make sure women were on the council.

“Maybe it’s listening a little bit longer before we act,” Prince said then. “Or maybe it’s even being concerned about serving kids and families.”

Prince decided not to seek a third term last year, while Noecker won re-election and now becomes the council’s senior member.




Samantha Henningson

A legislative aide for Russ Stark, who resigned after 10 years on the council to move to a position in the mayor’s office, Samantha Henningson filled his position as an interim council member until a special election was held.



Mitra Jalali

Kassim Busuri

Mitra Jalali said her election in 2018 felt like “a salvo of firsts.” She became the council’s first Asian American woman and the first to openly identify as part of the LGBTQ community. At the time, she was also the council’s youngest member and only renter. Now she’s poised to be the new council president.

“I felt like city conversations were ... held in very insular wonky language-type forms and formats,” Jalali said last summer. “I didn’t feel like there were places I could go to bring up what I care about. And I just wanted to open up political space — I think that’s the best way I could put it.”

LEILA NAVIDI, Star Tribune



Nelsie Yang

Nelsie Yang was sworn into office at age 24, making her the youngest council member in St. Paul’s history, as well as the first Hmong American woman to serve there. The daughter of refugees, Yang said she ran for office “to make sure that we live in a world that is working for working class people.”

After handily winning re-election last fall, Yang is returning as the council’s third most senior member.

Anthony Soufflé, STAR TRIBUNE




Russel Balenger


Anika Bowie

Rebecca Noecker

Saura Jost


Mitra Jalali

Hwa Jeong Kim

Nelsie Yang

Cheniqua Johnson

Incoming Council Members Anika Bowie, Saura Jost, Hwa Jeong Kim and Cheniqua Johnson will join Noecker, Jalali and Yang on Tuesday to make up St. Paul’s first all-female City Council. The new council will be the youngest and most racially diverse in city history, reflecting shifts in demographic trends.

Said Lantry: “These women ... won’t be shy about sitting around, waiting for things to happen. They will be the ones who are making things happen, without a doubt.”

“This is also the feeder system for the next mayor,” she added. “And if you have seven women on the council, maybe the city of St. Paul will finally get a woman mayor.”

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, STAR TRIBUNE


Historical St. Paul City Council data was compiled using archival newspapers and the City Council proceedings books in the St. Paul collection of the George Latimer Central Library. Council data from after 1999 was compiled from previous Star Tribune coverage and through help from the St. Paul City Council. For years when more than one council member served, such as when a member resigned, the council member pictured is the one who served the most time that year.

Staff news researcher John Wareham contributed to this story.