SALUTE TO COYA KNUTSON; Congressional Record Vol. 143, No. 12
(Extensions of Remarks - February 04, 1997)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E124]
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                         SALUTE TO COYA KNUTSON


                         HON. MARTIN OLAV SABO

                              of minnesota

                    in the house of representatives

                       Tuesday, February 4, 1997

  Mr. SABO. Mr. Speaker, today I would like to pay tribute to Coya 
Knutson, the only Minnesota woman ever elected to the U.S. House of 
Representatives, who died in October at the age of 84.
  Congresswoman Coya Knutson received considerable attention in 1958 
when her husband ignited a nationwide debate over the role of women in 
politics by sending his now-famous ``Coya, Come Home'' letters to 
Minnesota newspapers. The letters--which unfairly implied that her 
public career in Washington was forcing her to neglect her private 
duties as a wife and mother in Minnesota--are probably responsible for 
her close electoral defeat in 1958 after two terms.
  Before the letters made national news. Knutson seemed a shoo-in for a 
third term. Her opponent that year--who ran on the slogan ``A Big Man 
for a Man-Sized Job''--helped put her husband up to the letters. It 
also didn't help that she broke with leaders of the State Democratic 
Party--including Hubert Humphrey--by supporting Estes Kefauver over 
Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 Minnesota Presidential primary. Many of her 
Democratic friends did not forgive her for that break, and may even 
have supported the ``Coya Come Home'' campaign.
  But the story of Coya Knutson is far deeper than the ``Coya Come 
Home'' letters that gained her national notoriety and ended her 
congressional career.
  In an era when many women in Congress were widows serving out their 
late husbands' terms, Coya Knutson represented much more. Former Vice 
President, and Minnesota Senator, Walter Mondale likened her to Hubert 
Humphrey. ``She was full of life,'' he said. ``She was electric and 
people liked her. She was kind of like Humphrey. She could go into a 
room and get the dead to wake up.''
  When she arrived in Washington, Knutson's first choice for a 
committee assignment was the Agriculture Committee, where she could 
champion the cause of the family farmers who populated her district. 
But the committee's chairman ``had no interest in women serving with 
him.'' Most women of the time would have backed off. Knutson, however, 
went to Speaker Sam Rayburn and convinced him that she should be on 
Agriculture. So it was there she served, and it was there that her 
grasp of issues--and her hard work--eventually earned her the respect 
of the chairman.
  Many of Coya Knutson's legislative priorities still have resonance 
today. The Washington Post cataloged her congressional work in a story 
published a short time after her death.

       In her four years in Washington, Coya Knutson pushed for 
     the first Federal appropriations for cystic fibrosis 
     research. She introduced the first bill to include an income 
     tax checkoff for Presidential campaign financing. She created 
     the legislation that would eventually establish a Federal 
     student loan program. She supported the equal rights 
     amendment when labor and many liberals still opposed it on 
     the grounds that it could bring an end to legislation enacted 
     to protect women in the workplace.

  Unlike most of the women serving at the time, she felt no need to 
make the big men like her. It was that trait, combined with a real 
dedication to the job, that tells the real story of Coya Knutson.
  During her 4 years in Washington, she did much to pave the way for 
women who would later serve in Congress. She overcame obstacles and 
pushed down barriers that women today no longer encounter. She served 
with grace and accepted defeats without bitterness. Coya Knutson showed 
the Nation that a woman's place is not only in the home, but also in 
the House. For that, Mr. Speaker, the Nation owes Minnesota 
Congresswoman Coya Knutson a tremendous debt of gratitude.