During her first four years in office, Sara Fletcher Luther held her own as the only female legislator in the Minnesota State Capitol. For the next eight years, she was one of two women in the Legislature.
Better known as Sally, Luther served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1951 to 1962. She died of leukemia in her Florida home on Feb. 3. Luther was 96.
“She was fairly outspoken. She wasn’t shy or reluctant to express her views. She seemed quite willing to speak openly and forcefully,” recalled Don Fraser, former state senator, U.S. representative and Minneapolis mayor.
Luther, who represented Minneapolis’ District 30, was chairwoman of the Civil Administration and Welfare committees.
“She was active and always initiating ideas and promoting legislation,” Fraser said. “She overcame whatever natural problems there were as a woman because she was so friendly and so engaged. People really thought highly of her.”
Luther was born in Minneapolis in 1918 to prominent attorney Clark Fletcher and Alice Fletcher, then the “Grande Dame” of Deephaven.
Luther graduated from Vassar College in 1940 with a degree in drama and served as class correspondent for the rest of her life.
At Vassar, she became acquainted with the college’s longtime friend, Eleanor Roosevelt. Luther would later introduce Roosevelt to crowds before speeches in Minneapolis.
After college, Luther worked for Honeywell in Minneapolis and married C. Hamilton Luther in 1941. The couple had three children, Charles Luther, Mark Luther and Sara Lee Luther.
In 1947, Luther became a reporter for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, a job she held until winning political office in 1950.
At the State Capitol, Luther was respected for her versatility.
“I first came to the Legislature in 1961. I remember her as a very intelligent legislator, and one heavily involved in a whole series of issues,” said former U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo. “I just found her a very impressive member and a major contributor.”
Luther left office in 1962, divorced the following year and stayed active in politics. She became the executive assistant to Minnesota Gov. Karl Rolvaag, who praised her in interviews for pushing for legislation to improve schooling for people with developmental disabilities. She also worked on higher education and hospital care issues.
That work impressed John Neumaier, then president of Moorhead State College who had come to the State Capitol to lobby for state aid for junior colleges.
“I noticed that she was very able and knew what was going on,” Neumaier said. “My joke was that I had to marry her to make sure that my lobbying was successful.”
The two married in 1969 and relocated after he was named president of State University of New York College at New Paltz.
Before moving, Luther had been a Minnesota delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
She didn’t slow down in New York, earning a master’s degree in African studies and a doctorate in political sociology.
At age 72, Luther proved it’s never too late to build one’s resume. She authored a book about international politics, “The United States and the Direct Broadcast Satellite.”
Luther is survived by her husband; children Charles, Mark and Sara Lee Luther; stepchildren Diane, Roger and John Neumaier; and brothers Clark Fletcher Jr. and Kingston Fletcher.
Services have been held.