February 4, 1997 - Issue: Vol. 143, No. 12 — Daily Edition105th Congress (1997 - 1998) - 1st Session
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] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] 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. ____________________