In 1954 Coya (Cornelia) Knutson became the first and, until 2000, the only woman from Minnesota
to serve in the U.S. Congress
. The story of how this plainspoken woman gained election without her DFL
party support is interesting, and her tenure in office is not without note.
But the most fascinating facet of her political career was how the infamous
"Coya Come Home
" letters foiled her reelection bid.
In 1958 she earned the ire of the Minnesota DFL leaders
largely because she dissed Hubert H. Humphrey
was Minnesota's "favorite son" and one of the biggest figures in Minnesota politics at the time. He was also favored to get the vice-presidential
nod for the 1958 DFL ticket. However, Coya supported Estes Kefauver
, and her support eventually got him on the (losing) team with Adlai Stevenson
. The politician
s in Minnesota
were not happy
Party leaders approached her estranged
, unemployed, abusive, and alcoholic
husband, Andy Knutson, and influenced him to write (or copy) several public letters to Coya that were
released to the press. In these open letters, Andy Knutson stated that he asked his wife not to run for reelection
, asked the Democratic convention to select another
candidate to run on the ticket, and bemoaned
the fact that she was never home and their marital happiness
was shattered by her political ambitions.
"Coya come home" became newspaper headline, and the manufactured scandal
strongly influenced public opinion
. Although she won her own primary
, she lost the election. She was the only Democratic incumbent
to lose that year. She ran for office two more times but lost.
In 1982, Coya remarked,
"I've found that
have to work twice as hard as men
to accomplish the same job. They're coming up from behind and they have to catch up."
Her story was the basis for a best-selling book, "Coya Come Home
and for an NBC
-TV movie starring Glenn Close
by the same name.
Coya Knutson died of kidney failure in Minneapolis
, October 10, 1996