Gender Discrimination & Sexual Harassment

Discrimination against women in the workplace in Minnesota history
Subjects: Social Issues
Tags: business, women

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Willmar 8, striking bank employees in Willmar. 1977. The Willmar 8: A Film About Working Women, video recording
Directed by: Lee Grant
Produced by: California Newsrell/Media at Work, San Fransisco, CA: 1979. 
Tells the story of eight women bank workers in the small town of Willmar, Minnesota who found themselves in the forefront of the fight for working women's rights.  
MNHS call number: Film Use Copy A-54

Oral History Interviews of the St. Paul Police Women Oral History Project , 2010
This project documents the challenges and successes of female officers that served in the St. Paul Police Department between the 1960s and the 2000s. The project evolved out of the larger St. Paul Police Department Oral History Project when it became evident that the female officers’ experiences were significantly different. The interviews trace the changing roles of female officers and record their stories of discrimination, public success, and private pain.
MNHS call number:  Transcripts and Digital Audio

Sexual Discrimination in Employment Agencies, by Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
Minneapolis, MN: 1972. 
MNHS call number: HD6096.M6 S48

Kathleen A. Olson Papers, 1969-1992
Papers of a Minnesota feminist documenting her participation (1970-1980) in voluntary organizations dedicated to achieving full rights for women and the elimination of sexism and sex discrimination in Minnesota schools, and her involvement (1980-1984) with University of Minnesota committees working under terms of the Rajender consent decree to end sex discrimination by the University in the hiring and promotion of women faculty and academic staff.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid 

Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Division of Women's Affairs Records, 1965-1977
Reports, newspaper clippings, newsletters, articles, bills, and correspondence concerning various aspects of women's rights, particularly sex discrimination.
MNHS call numberDigital Finding Aid


When researching the history of sex-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace, it’s important to note that what you don’t find may be as telling as what you do.  First of all, most of the information which is more easily found relates to official court cases. Driven by women's increased participation in the labor force following WWII, federal legislation outlawing sex discrimination in the workplace was not passed until the 1960s (with title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act, respectively). So, although discrimination and harassment in the workplace did happen prior to this time, it is not as acknowledged in our written records.  

Documentation was also frequently driven by one’s socioeconomic status and race. For example, the experience of Minnesota congresswoman Coya Knutson and the discrimination she faced in her political career is much more documented than the experiences of an enslaved woman at Fort Snelling. 

Key cases highlighted in this guide include:

Telling the story of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in Minnesota also involves the broader feminist movement of the 1970s and the organizations dedicated to achieving women’s equality in the workplace and beyond.  So records from these Minnesota-based organizations as well as the units of state government that were dedicated to this anti-discrimination work are featured here.


The following definitions may be helpful in conducting research.  Keep in mind that language on this topic has evolved significantly since the 1970s including the how the terms "gender" and "sex" are used.  When conducting historic research,  note that a great deal of the material is cataloged as "sex discrimination" and/or "sexual harassment". 

  • Sex Discrimination: Discrimination in employment and opportunity against a person (typically a woman) on grounds of sex.
  • Sexual Harassment: Harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
  • Gender Discrimination: Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women. The belief that one gender is superior to the other, especially that men are superior to women. 
  • Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Harassment or differential treatment based on someone's perceived or actual gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or heterosexual orientation.

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Guide Author

Jennifer Kleinjung
Reference Librarian 

MNHS Reference Staff

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