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Minneapolis Maternity Hospital & The Willmar 8

We’re celebrating our 1 year anniversary! (Birthday?) With some home grown herstory heroes from our great, frozen state of Minnesota! Enjoy! This will be a longer blog.

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Name: Martha Ripley

Dates: November 30, 1843 – April 18, 1912

What she did: Activist, reformer, and doctor

  • Martha George Rogers was born in Lowell, Vermont, on November 30, 1843.
  • The Rogers family moved to northeastern Iowa in June 1847.
  • They lived in Little Turkey River about three miles southeast of Fort Atkinson.
  • For the next decade the twin influences of a New England family circle and a stern frontier discipline continued to shape Martha.
  • They enlisted in the abolition cause and maintained an underground railroad station in a cave in the bluff behind their home.
  • Formal schooling was not to be had in Martha’s early years, but she received rudimentary instruction from her parents. Later she attended high school, although she did not graduate. 
  • Martha with her long black hair, finely modeled face, sparkling gray eyes, and vivacious personality, at seventeen, was the “belle of the Little Turkey River.”
  • Although she must have had ample opportunity for immediate marriage, she chose instead to teach — practically the only career open to women on the frontier, she spent a total of seven terms in the schoolroom.
  • At about this time diphtheria epidemics visited the community, and the young teacher was pressed into service attending the sick. She successfully cared for diphtheria victims and gained some experience in practical home nursing.
  • In June 1861, Dorothea L. Dix became superintendent of United States Army nurses, and everywhere women volunteered for nursing duty or organized to send supplies to soldiers.
  • Martha Rogers volunteered, but Miss Dix wanted plain women over thirty, not pretty teen-agers. Thus, Martha had to content herself with recruiting others who were eligible and seeking money and gifts for the United States Sanitary Commission.
  • The close of the war brought many young men west. Among them was William Warren Ripley, who took up ranching in the neighborhood of Fort Atkinson and soon began to pay court to Martha.
  • William married Martha in June 1867, he had already agreed to return to New England as manager of this enterprise. His bride accompanied him.
  • As one author has recently noted: “The wilderness may have been the frontier for American men . . . but the city was the frontier for American women.”
  • Martha arrived in Massachusetts ,24 at the time, as the nation was beginning to shed its rural and agricultural past for an urban and industrial future.
  • The early part of Martha’s residence in Massachusetts was spent close to Lawrence and represented a unique interlude of leisure in her life.
  • The first of three daughters born — Abigail, Clara, and Edna May — did not arrive until five years after their marriage.
  • At about this time the family moved from Lawrence to Middleton, where William Ripley bought a mill of his own and engaged in the production of writing paper.
  • 1875 found Martha ready to take her place in the ranks of reform. Middleton did not at that time have an active suffrage group, and in order to create one she sought to educate the people. 
  • The success of her efforts can be traced in the pages of the Woman’s Journal, which shows Middleton developing into a stronghold of the movement.
    • In the course of organizational work at the grass roots level, Martha observed that the abstract right called suffrage meant far less to ordinary members of her sex than did a specific reality, such as a vote on temperance or a voice in school elections.
    • The lesson was not lost upon her, and she became a permanent convert to the moderate approach advocated by Lucy Stone.
    • Success at the local level won Martha Ripley a place in the inner councils of the state and regional associations. 
  • In her debut at the annual convention of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, she took issue with a statement that women could not convert members of their sex as well as men could, and citing her Middleton labors, she pointed the moral: keep the woman’s rights movement practical.
  • At the same meeting she was given a place on the executive committee of the organization, and a few months later Lucy Stone informed her of her election to the state central committee of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. 
  • At the January meeting of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Convention in 1881 she criticized a speaker who blamed women for men’s shortcomings and declared that such meetings spent too much time discussing questions already settled.
  • She noted the rapid changes occurring in the condition of women. They could now enter any profession and succeed if they had the ability, she said.
    • If Harvard would not accept women, they could acquire the necessary knowledge in “other places of learning.” 
  • Entrance into the circle of suffrage leaders was a vital step in Martha Ripley’s education, for she formed lifelong friendships with members of the immediate group and with other prominent reformers as well.
  • She became a favorite and frequent visitor in the Dorchester home of the Blackwell’s, and her committee associates also included professional women such as Mercy B. Jackson and Marie E. Zakrzewska, who were both doctors.
  • These relationships gave her a fresh perspective on woman’s role in American society and helped prepare the ground for her own entrance into a career.
  • October 1880, she enrolled in the Boston University School of Medicine. Her immediate reason for seeking medical training was to care more competently for her own family and for the families of the mill hands who still called upon her for help in times of sickness and distress.
    • She had engaged willingly in this charitable work until a baby she was caring for choked to death with membranous croup. Shocked, she then insisted that she would either have to study medicine or abandon nursing. 
  • Her entrance application gives a revealing glimpse of both the matron and the medical education of the day. She lacked a high school diploma, but she was not deficient in preparation by contemporary standards.
    • Her experience undoubtedly counted, as did her “eager desire for knowledge” and her “habit of trying to learn something every day and from every person.” Even so, the essay she wrote would probably by itself have won her admission.
  • When Martha entered Boston University, laboratory instruction was replacing lectures and the twenty-four-month curriculum, which was spread over a three-year period.
  • One third of Martha’s class consisted of women, and they often dominated the student prize competitions. Nevertheless, equal rights suffered when the faculty allowed men students to monopolize the best appointments.
    • As her friends told the story (probably with embellishment), Martha faced the challenge by brandishing a backbone she was dissecting and asserting that this was what the faculty needed. The situation was soon corrected.
  • As her training advanced, her increased medical responsibilities in Boston widened Martha’s education as an urban reformer. Seniors did the maternity work of the homeopathic hospitals and visited homes on sick call. Here among paupers and slums, life reached out and provided a crucible for testing the theories held in polite reform circles.
  • The gentle picture of a well-to-do-matron giving medical care to her own family and to others upon a voluntary basis was dissipated when William Ripley was injured in a mill accident and was forced to retire from business. This threw upon his wife the responsibility for earning income.
  • She graduated with honors in the spring of 1883, and late that August departed alone on a scouting trip to Minneapolis.
  • Her husband had relatives there, and no doubt Minnesota’s burgeoning industrial city promised more opportunity than the settled communities of New England.
  • Dr. Ripley visited the new homeopathic hospital on Ninth Street and began to look for housing and office space.
    • The search was disappointing. Most of what she saw was either “small and cheap” or too remote, and despite the building boom, houses were taken “about as soon as the cellar is dry.”
  • Land was fabulously expensive, with lots reputedly doubling in price in a few weeks. “‘Margins and corner lots’ is about all you hear of,” she wrote in perplexity, wishing that Mr. Ripley were there to make the decision.
    • Such vexations reminded her that the trip was in earnest, and “not like a visit.” It was a lonely and difficult period, and her spirit faltered briefly before the new responsibilities she faced.
  • Her letters to her family reveal the high price paid to be a “woman of 1880.” “I am very tired anxious etc.” she wrote in one, going on to say that she was exhausted “mentally and physically” and believed that she had been for years and had just discovered it.
    • This delayed reaction was the protest of strength pushed to its outer limits.
    • Minneapolis gradually exerted a tonic effect, however. “The place grows upon one,” she admitted, cautiously.
  • Shortly thereafter Dr. Ripley and her family moved to Minneapolis.
  • In October, 1883, she was elected president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association, before she had even moved to the state.
  • Minnesota was not Massachusetts, however, and during her tenure Dr. Ripley scored only limited gains.
  • She succeeded in bringing the seventeenth annual convention of the American Woman Suffrage Association to Minneapolis in 1885.
  • Not long afterward she gave up the presidency of the Minnesota suffrage organization, but only to intensify her assault on other fronts of the woman’s rights struggle.
    • The ballot was to her but one aspect of the larger quest for equality and was above all else an avenue toward correcting the discriminatory laws and social attitudes which facilitated the exploitation of women by men.
  • Medical practice brought to her attention daily the helplessness of women to protect their homes, their children, and themselves in a society which accorded them an inferior position.
  • Brushing aside the conventional cowardice which forbade the discussion of “delicate” subjects. Dr. Ripley flailed the lax public attitude which indulged the double standard.
    • Excoriating male seducers who insisted upon the chastity of their own brides, she demanded equal personal purity of men.
    • As a physician she announced her dissent from the views of those doctors who insisted that men needed sexual intercourse for health. 
  • When a young Minneapolis woman shot the man, who ruined her under the promise of marriage, Dr. Ripley exclaimed that no poor working girl should be obliged to do for herself what the law should do for her.
    • Existing statutory punishments for crimes against women she declared a disgrace, noting that in Minnesota the persons of girls were not as well protected as their property.
    • The age of consent under the 1858 constitution was but ten years. 
    • Nevertheless in 1889 the legislature not only rebuffed an attempt to raise the age of consent but passed a law empowering fathers to will away their unborn children. This, Dr. Ripley declared publicly, was “worthy of the Dark Ages.” 
  • In 1891 the legislature was deluged with petitions to raise the age of consent to eighteen years; the lawmakers placed it at fourteen.
  • Four years later another vigorous campaign was launched to secure an adequate law. A meeting in the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis on January 30, 1895, endorsed a bill which raised the age to eighteen.
    • Dr. Ripley served on a general committee to “carry on the work and to appoint press and finance committees.”
    • Working with her was Professor Maria Sanford of the University of Minnesota, and among the religious leaders who supported the effort was Archbishop John Ireland.
    • The fight was carried into the judiciary committee of the state senate. In earlier deliberations within the circle of crusaders.
    • Dr. Ripley had differed with those who feared that boys or innocent men might be made liable to blackmail or jail at the instance of designing servant girls.
    • At the Capitol, however, she insisted on distinguishing between types of offenders and stressed the need to incarcerate older, more wicked culprits for over a year — and not merely in a county jail.
    • Despite all efforts, the measure failed to pass. Then, calling attention to the injustice done women, Dr. Ripley personally petitioned the senate for the right to vote — a gesture which the lawmakers met with laughter and ridicule.
  • There were numerous other facets of the equal rights struggle upon which she voiced her opinion or took vigorous action.
    • Among them were the need for matrons on the Minneapolis police force, the right of female domestics to organize a union, and the right of women to seats on the board of education.
    • Many statements before the Minneapolis school board and letters on the editorial pages of the city’s newspapers reflected her sustained interest in the public schools — both as a mother and as a defender of the largely female teaching staff.
    • As a member of the Women’s Rescue League she participated actively in efforts to reform and rehabilitate the city’s prostitutes.
    • By virtue of her age and long residence she became a link of continuity after the turn of the century between the pioneers in the movement and their successors at a time of internal strain resulting from shifting bases of support and a change-over in leadership.
  • Medicine was, however. Dr. Ripley’s reason for settling in Minneapolis, and it monopolized her time and energy. She became a highly successful obstetrician and won a place of distinction in the medical history of the city.
  • Licensed on the last day of 1883, she was preceded by at least seven women doctors in Minneapolis and a total of twenty in the state.
  • The prominence which accompanied her suffrage activities brought patients in its wake, and the city’s large immigrant population included many women who took kindly to lady doctors.
  • Contemporary sources agree that her practice was extensive and lucrative. It included at least one male allopath, and devoted patients seem to have overlooked her homeopathic connection, although she actively maintained it in writing, lecturing, and teaching.
  • As a professional woman the former Iowa beauty wore her skirts well above the ground as a sanitary measure, and probably for a similar reason she cut her dark but graying hair unfashionably short.
  • Despite her many professional and community responsibilities she was, her daughter recalls, a good wife and mother — one who could be counted on when the family needed her. In her moments of relaxation, she enjoyed both cooking and poetry; she was a member of the Plymouth Congregational Church, which the family usually attended together.
  • William Ripley was a partner who greatly aided her. Not only was he sympathetic to her professional and reforming careers but he also assumed much family responsibility.
    • Never returning to active business, he was able to spend considerable time with the children, and a daughter remembers that he often drove the doctor on her night calls in a buggy heated with warmed soap stones.
  • In addition to her lifelong crusade for woman’s rights, she campaigned for a wide variety of reforms related to public health, although her idealism and social viewpoint at times evoked strong opposition and even ridicule.
  • As an individual and also as chairman of the fourth ward committee of the Minneapolis Improvement League, she conducted a war on filth and a battle for pure water.
    • In letters to the newspapers she also condemned food adulteration and added her voice to that of the Minneapolis Tribune against crowding patients with different contagious diseases into one small, unventilated room in the city hospital.
    • A letter published in 1890, outlining the inadequacies of the city’s sanitation system, drew from William W. Folwell, former president of the University of Minnesota, an answer complimenting her on “so much good sense” in such small space.
    • As a corollary to her crusade for public health, she became an enthusiastic advocate of cremation. Sanitary means of earth burial had not yet been devised, and as urbanization advanced, it became impossible to remove crowded graveyards outside the limits of cities. The modern cremation movement with its emphasis on sanitation was, therefore, one aspect of the rise of the city. 
    • She urged that the city assume responsibility for building a crematory on correct scientific principles, and she described the process of incineration, drawing upon her own observation of the reduction of two friends to ashes.
    • In closing she suggested three advantages of the custom: cremation meant safety to the living, was less costly than earth burial, and, she added, with grim but certainly unconscious humor, it “allays all fear of being buried alive.”
    • Her commitment to the cause was total, for she asked that her family return her body to Boston if she died before she could be incinerated in Minneapolis.
  • The unique achievement which set Martha Ripley apart from a host of other dedicated reformers in her generation was the establishment of Maternity Hospital.
  • Long a Minneapolis landmark, the institution reflected the two dominant themes in its founder’s life: concern for the welfare of women, and the physician’s responsibility to give medical care wherever it was needed. 
  • In nineteenth-century Minneapolis unwed mothers approached childbirth with immense physical and psychological hazards.
    • Hospital maternity facilities were limited, since most babies were still delivered at home, and no city hospital admitted an unmarried woman for confinement.
    • Such persons were, in the view of the day, deserving of punishment, not help. Since family homes were also frequently closed to erring daughters, the alternatives were few and grim.
    • The only Minneapolis institution open to such cases was Bethany Home for the Friendless, established in 1875 by a society for reforming women.
    • The city gave it financial support and sent charity cases there. Young “innocents” were thrown with hardened older women, and punishment rather than redemption was the keynote.
    • Although she did not condone immorality, Dr. Ripley was keenly aware of the injustice inherent in the situation. The rapidly urbanizing community of Minneapolis was both complex and fluid in 1886 — a fact reflected in the diversity of the first three patients taken under the doctor’s wing.
      • One was a teacher, another the daughter of a clergyman, and the third a very young Scandinavian girl, homeless, friendless, and destitute.
      • Whatever the circumstances of their pregnancies, they needed care, and Dr. Ripley met the situation by renting a small house on Fifteenth Street and hiring a nurse.
      • The first three patients were quickly joined by others, and within a month it became evident that the building was too small. 
  • The admission of nineteen patients during the next four months clearly demonstrated the need for a permanent hospital.
  • Dr. Ripley organized her forces, and in July, 1887, a corporation was formed to “provide a lying-in hospital for the confinement of married women who are without mean or suitable abode and care at the time of child-birth,” and which might “admit girls who have previously borne a good character, but who, under promise of marriage, have been led astray.” It was also to “care for destitute children born in this institution.”
  • The only non amenable article of incorporation specified that the medical department was to be “under the care and control of homeopathic woman physicians,” although any doctor of good standing could treat patients there.
  • On the board of directors were prominent women Dr. Ripley had met through her various activities, including homeopaths, suffragists, school board candidates, and a lawyer. The name chosen was simply “Maternity Hospital,” and this it remained.
  • A permanent location was urgently needed, and the corporation quickly purchased for $8,500 “a new brick-veneered building, containing twenty large, sunny and home-like rooms, at 2529 Fourth Avenue South.
  • Since only a few hundred dollars were available for a down payment, the property was subject to liens and mortgages, and for a few years the financial stress was keen. “We have been warmed and fed from day to day,” wrote the secretary in her report for 1888, and the long list of contributions makes this abundantly clear.
  • Nothing was refused — from five hundred pounds of flour donated by Charles A. Pillsbury to the “grapes and I goose” given by one Anna Reynolds. The hospital’s most substantial benefactor was Levi M. Stewart.
  • Briskly efficient, impatient of red tape, and pressed by other duties, she was capable of disconcerting some allies.
  • More difficult to overcome was the substantial body of public opinion which resisted the hospital’s humanitarian work because of a conviction that it encouraged vice and illegitimacy.
  • This attitude led at least one prominent Minneapolis woman to try dissuading a friend from membership on the board of directors, and in later years the hospital’s association with unwed mothers prevented many “respectable” women from taking advantage as paying patients of its truly outstanding medical facilities.
  • As guiding spirit and attending physician. Dr. Ripley established an enviable record by insisting upon aseptic practices, by excluding contagious diseases, and by establishing the cottage system when the hospital moved in 1896 to its final location on a five-acre tract at the corner of Western and Penn Avenue North.
  • Not one child was lost during actual birth in the eleven years to 1899, and the standards set by Dr. Ripley were maintained throughout the life of the hospital.
  • For the decade ending in 1937 the maternal death rate there was 1.35 per thousand as compared to a state-wide average of 4.5.
  • Dr. Ripley not only led the institution to distinction in the field of hospital and medical care but also in recognizing the close relationship between social service and medical treatment.
  • Maternity was the first Minneapolis hospital to establish a separate social service department.
  • Following the threefold purpose set forth in its articles of incorporation, it developed over the years three distinct divisions, each operating independently but in close co-operation.
    • One was the hospital proper, serving both private and welfare patients.
    • A residence for unmarried mothers and an infants’ home were eventually housed in separate buildings and were operated under the social service department, which also supervised the admission of welfare patients. For many infants, deserted wives, and wronged girls this shelter was the only home they bad known. 
    • During their stay in the hospital youthful transgressors were surrounded with wholesome influences and asked to attend a religious service on Sunday and often on Thursday also.
    • For those who kept their babies, training was offered in the care of infants, and an effort was made to find employment for the ones who faced the need to support themselves after leaving.
    • By the mid-1920s guidance and counseling services were offered, as well as opportunities for vocational training, and each case was followed up for a number of months by a trained field worker.
    • Joining the infants born in the hospital were foundlings often left there and babies properly admitted for medical attention.
    • The institution operated as an informal adoption agency long before an 1893 law permitted it to consent to adoption of abandoned or destitute children. The committee in charge sought “good Christian temperance” homes and appears to have placed as many as half the babies that came under its care.
  • At the close of 1911, twenty-five years after its founding. Maternity Hospital had cared for a total of 5,200 patients. During that period Dr, Ripley was the heart and soul of the enterprise.
  • In an anniversary address in November 1911, she reviewed its history and opened a drive to raise fifty thousand dollars for a new hospital building.
  • Shortly after Christmas she ignored her own advanced years and tired body to brave inclement weather and support some humanitarian measure at the Capitol in St Paul.
  • The resulting respiratory infection brought on an illness which proved fatal. “Is everything all right at the hospital?” were her last words before she died on April 18, 1912.
  • Two days later she was cremated, and when in late 1915 the cornerstone was laid for the new Martha G. Ripley Memorial Building of Maternity Hospital, her ashes were placed within it.

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Name: The Willmar 8 (Doris Boshart, Irene Wallin, Sylvia Erickson Koll, Jane Harguth Groothuis, Sandi Treml, Teren Novotny, Shirley Solyntjes, and Glennis Ter Wisscha)

What they did: Strike against a bank for equal pay!

  • Imagine this: small town Minnesota in the dead of winter. Snow covers the ground. Not the fluffy romantic snow; snow which has been frozen solid to the point where falling on it would feel like concrete. The temperature is -70 degrees F (-57 degrees C) with wind chill.
  • This is unbearable, even for hearty Minnesotans who have snow and ice coursing through their veins.
  • Despite the horrific conditions, 8 women stood outside the Citizens National Bank, bundled from head to toe, holding picket signs which read things like “Unfair labor practices,” “Strike,” and “We protest slave labor.”
  • These women were known as the Willmar 8 and they were striking against the Citizens National Bank in Willmar, MN.
  • It’s no secret that the 1970s were not the wokest of decades. Though Woemen’s Lib was in full swing and the Equal Pay act had been enacted in 1963, sexism and sex discrimination was still going strong.
  • The Citizens National Bank was no exception.
  • There were some stark differences between male and female bank employees.
    • Pay Inequality- The average starting salary for men at the bank was $700/mo (almost $3,000 today) while the starting salary for women was $300/mo ($1,277 today.) To put this in perspective, $700/mo is what one of the strikers had worked her way up to after 10 years at the bank.
    • In addition to this pay inequality, the only female officer at the bank earned $4,000 less than the men SHE SUPERVISED.
    • Unpaid Overtime- Female employees were required to work overtime without pay.
  • Animosity had been stirring for a while. “We talked about it amongst ourselves all the time and it just kept growing and growing and we kept getting angrier and angrier.” Doris Boshart said.
  • Things came to a head in April of 1977. The female employees were told to train a new, male employee who was hired at a better wage, to become their boss (because you need a guy to supervise women.) When the women confronted the Bank President, Leo Pirsch over this and the ongoing discrimination, he told them, “We’re not all equal, you know.” And that men need more money to pay for dates.
  • Not satisfied with their boss’ flawless logic, that May the women filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC and file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
  • In addition to these efforts, the women formed Minnesota’s first bank union.
  • That June, the EEOC unsurprisingly determined there was reasonable cause to believe there had been gender discrimination and the bank’s board of directors agreed to negotiate with the women.
  • However, as Ter Wisscha, one of the striker’s recalled, the negotiations were “an absolute effort in futility. The bank president would sit reading the newspaper at the bargaining table. They had no intention of going anywhere.”
  • So since nothing came of that, on December 16th, 1977, the 8 women ventured out in the subzero weather and began picketing the bank.
  • The women weren’t super excited to picket the bank and hoped the strike would end within a few weeks. Many of them felt that this could have been avoided had the bank just paid their employees equally.
  • Unfortunately, as Teren Novotny (one of the strikers) said “They weren’t going to let a bunch of female employees tell them what to do.”
  • Though the women hoped the strike would end quickly, it ended up dragging on for nearly 2 years.
  • Despite the women never sending out a press release or soliciting any kind of publicity, the strike gained national attention, and was seen as part of the larger Women’s Lib movement of the time.
  • The Willmar 8 received cards, letters, and donations in support from all over the world. An anonymous woman from New Zealand donated $5 every month to the strike fund. One letter read “You can’t stop, you understand you can’t stop. Please understand you’re doing this for all of us.”
  • The women were featured in magazines, and on TV shows including the Today Show. Actress Lee Grant showed up at the picket line and made a documentary about the women. Ter Wisscha said of the documentary:
    • “There’s something that pulls me to it. Only because every time I see it I still cry . . . and I realize that as the tears are coming to my eyes at certain points, I look around and I see I’m not alone. I feel the welling up of support again . . . It reenergizes and gives me some wonderful reminders and I can’t believe that I was part of that.”
    • “It wasn’t very long before it wasn’t our strike anymore,” Ter Wisscha recalled.
  • The National Organization for Women (NOW) was also supportive, sending additional people to support them on the picket line.
  • At first, the Willmar 8 looked on the NOW activists with suspicion. Feminism was a dirty word and conjured images of bra burning radical hippie women who braided their pit hair and free bled in church and looked down on women who stayed in the home.
  • However, the Willmar 8 came to realize that the activists were fighting to give women more choices, rather than telling women how to live.
    • Striker Ter Wisscha recalled “It was like a light bulb came on in my head. It was like, wow, I get it! I understand.”
  • In February the United Automobile Workers held a support rally for the Willmar 8 which was attended by more than 250 people.
    Ter Wisscha recalled, “They were friends, they were supporters, and they did this without being asked.”
  • However, while the nation was falling in love with these 8 spunky gals, the issue was highly controversial and seemed to split the town’s 14,000 citizens.
    • They had never seen anything like this and couldn’t believe the strike was even happening.
    • While some townspeople supported the women, honking as they drove past the strikers, others were actively harmful.
    • Local businesses blacklisted them for years; their children lost friends; and one striker’s marriage crumbled.
    • The lawyer, John Mack, who was representing the women was removed from his position as the GOP county chair. To his credit, he stuck with the cases! He said “They were right and I didn’t conceive of it then- and I still don’t conceive of it now- as being a partisan issue.”
  • There were also 5 female employees who didn’t strike and remained working at the bank.
  • The bank began to suffer financial losses due to townspeople ceasing their support. They dropped from an annual growth rate of 12% to 6%.
  • Remarking on the citizens of Willmar turning their backs on the bank, Doris Boshart said “I think they were ashamed that they let us stand out there for two years.”
  • Though the bank could have ended the strike by simply agreeing to pay the women equally, they instead tried to leverage their power against the strikers. They put “the financial squeeze” on a nearby gas station where the women would take bathroom breaks, forcing them to bar the women.
  • As the strike dragged on, it was taking an emotional toll on the women and strike funds were shrinking. In the summer of 1978, the Willmar 8 dropped their discrimination lawsuit against the bank and settled for a small financial settlement which was brokered by the EEOC. By September of that year, their strike funds were gone and the strikers dropped their demands entirely, offering to return to work without a contract.
  • The bank had already filled the 8 women’s positions and told them that they could reapply as openings became available.
    One of the strikers, Doris Boshart, was allowed to immediately return to the bank but instead of returning to her position as head bookkeeper, she was demoted to teller.
  • Beyond this, the other bank employees were abusive and constantly harassed her. 4 of the other strikers were able to return to the bank but didn’t stay for more than a few months.
  • In the summer of 1979, the Honorable E. Dorian Gadsden of the National Labor Relations Board found that the Citizens National Bank was guilty of unfair labor practices.
  • HOWEVER, they also ruled that the unfair practices did not cause the strike and ruled that the strike was economic. Because of this, the Willmar 8 were not entitled to back pay or getting their jobs back.
    • So economic strikers are those who are trying to gain an economic concession from the employer, like higher wages, better hours, or improved working conditions. The strikers retain their status as employees but employers are allowed to replace them. If the employer has hired a permanent replacement, the striker isn’t entitled to their job back.
    • This is opposed to “unfair labor practice strikers” who strike against unfair labor practices. In this case, the employer cannot fire or permanently replace the strikers.
  • Despite this ruling that I literally can’t wrap my head around, the Willmar 8 held the picket line into the fall until, eventually, the strike fizzled and ended.

LEGACY

  • Doris Boshart, the one striker who was allowed to return to the bank, stuck it out and, according to a 2009 article, still works at the bank, though it’s now ‘Heritage Bank.’
  • Aside from the small settlement, the Willmar 8 never received any financial gain from the strike.
  • St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mary Ann Grossmann covered the strike from beginning to end, and saw the bond that developed among the women. “I think it became a sisterhood,” she said. “They weren’t going to let each other down.”
  • Despite having lost the battle, the Willmar 8 contributed into the large-scale fight for gender equality in the workplace. One of the strikers, Teren Novotny, recalled that her mother-in-law saw increased respect for women in the bank where she worked.
  • The Willmar 8 still receive letters and phone calls from college students learning about the case, honoring her for her sacrifices and struggles which contributed to them being able to pursue an education and greater workplace equality.
  • “That’s what fuels my belief that we’re not done winning yet,” Ter Wisscha recalled. “People are still asking the questions. People still want to try to understand.”
  • Suzanne Nelson, a history teacher at Willmar Junior High School, teachers her students about the Willmar 8 to teach them how, “a small group of people can make a lot of difference.”

 

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