When Kathleen Ridder had an idea for improving the lot of women and girls — as she did, often — there was no stopping her. Ridder, who grew up in New York, died Monday in Florida at age 94. But for most of her life she was a Minnesotan and one of this state’s most persistent prods for gender equity.
Make that “persistent and effective.” The daughter of a female shop owner who married in 1943 into the family that owned newspapers including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Ridder employed her means and visibility as tools for social change. Her “feminist life,” as she dubbed it in her 1998 memoir, “Shaping My Feminist Life,” made an abiding difference for Minnesota women in politics, law, athletics, education and more.
Ridder never held elective office, though she served an appointed stint on the Metropolitan Council. But as the Republican co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund (now womenwinning), she helped raise campaign funds that have flowed to hundreds of pro-choice women candidates. As a member of the state Board of Human Rights in the late 1960s, she was an early force for equal pay for women.
As a member of the state Board of Continuing Legal Education and later of the American Bar Association’s accreditation committee, she pushed to make the legal profession more welcoming to women. In 1978, Ridder campaigned for the election of Associate Justice Rosalie Wahl as the first woman to win a full term on the state Supreme Court. Later, she pushed for the second woman to the high court, Associate Justice M. Jeanne Coyne.
Women athletes at the University of Minnesota owe much to Ridder. As a donor, she pressed U officials to support women’s teams and raised funds to build Ridder Arena in 2002, the first intercollegiate arena in the U.S. built exclusively for women’s hockey. She opposed the merger of the women’s and men’s athletic departments that same year and remained a steadfast and vocal watchdog of the merger’s consequences.
A few months ago, as she battled leukemia, Ridder told an editorial writer that she was worried about Minnesota’s future. “The men are too much in charge!” she lamented. Maybe so — but that’s less true than it once was, thanks to her.