When: Nov. 3, 1954.
What happened: A small-town schoolteacher became the first woman elected by Minnesotans to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Her name was Coya Knutson, and she lived in Oklee, a northwestern hamlet 60 miles from the North Dakota border. She’d served in the state House, and liked it, so she set her sights on Washington, D.C.
After she won, the Minneapolis Tribune described how Knutson, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, had campaigned:
“She greeted farmers in their dairy barns at 5 a.m. She walked across fields to talk politics to men on combines. She knocked on kitchen doors and talked to their wives.”
Knutson would serve two terms, then lose a nasty race made famous by the “Come Home, Coya” letter supposedly written by her estranged husband, Andy. “As your husband,” it said, “I compel you to do this. I’m tired of being torn apart from my family. I’m sick and tired of having you run around with other men all the time and not your husband. I love you, honey.”
The husband signed it, but didn’t write it. Most sources believe the “Come Home” gambit came from rival DFLers who wanted her out. She lost the election in 1958 and divorced her husband the year after. (When he died 10 years later from alcohol poisoning, she didn’t attend the funeral.)
What remains: Knutson would go on to work in the Defense Department, but eventually she left D.C. for Minnesota to live with relatives. She came home — but on her own terms, at the time of her choosing.