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Minnesota Women's Legislative Timeline

Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage

1977 - Battered Women/Domestic Violence 

Synopsis: In 1977, Minnesota became the first state to give financial support to battered women's shelters (Laws 1977, Chapter 425).

Legislative History: In 1977, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to award state funds to battered women's shelters. First-of-its-kind legislation, authored by Representative Phyllis Kahn and Senator B. Robert Lewis, the law provided $500,000 to establish four pilot programs for shelter and support services. Two of the shelters were to be in the Twin Cities metro area, one in a non-metro city, and one in a rural area. The law also provided funds for data collection and reporting, community education and training for displaced homemakers. The law required a study to evaluate the data for action in subsequent legislative sessions. In 1979, a public safety omnibus act expanded the pilot programs and support services and appropriated $2.9 million for an expanded shelter program and advocacy services for women and children (Laws 1979, Chapter 241). Today, all domestic violence programs are housed in the Department of Public Safety and organized under the Domestic Abuse Act (Statutes, 518B.01).

Historical Context: At the time of the 1977 law authorizing pilot state-funded shelter programs in Minnesota, the shelter system was growing in America. The first shelter in the Twin Cities was created in St. Paul in the early 1970s by Women's Advocates, a coalition of women's rights activists affiliated with Legal Aid. After starting in a small apartment, their shelter grew with the purchase of a house in 1974. Another group, the Women's Consortium, played an active role in drafting the seminal 1977 law. In 1981, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth developed a model for a coordinated community response to the issue of domestic violence. The approach, now known nationwide as the Duluth Project, uses a multi-disciplinary effort to tackle the many facets of the problem. In 1981-82, the Minneapolis Police Department and researcher Lawrence Sherman conducted a study on the most effective deterrent to domestic violence. The study (called the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment, or MDVE) concluded that automatic arrest was the primary deterrent to repeat offenses of domestic violence. Although still controversial today, the MDVE garnered front page headlines across the nation and had a dramatic impact on the criminal justice approach to domestic violence. Federally, the response to domestic violence has focused primarily on criminal justice. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which appropriated $1.6 billion to enhance criminal prosecution and protection efforts. The National Organization for Women called VAWA 'the greatest civil rights breakthrough for women in two decades.'

Selected Resources
Battered Women Programs: A Legislative Report. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, 1979.

Battered Women: An Effective Response. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections, Programs and Services for Battered Women, 1979. An educational manual for professionals and organizations providing services to women who are abused.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. Detailed information on the Duluth Model.

Pirius, Rebecca. Domestic Abuse Laws in Minnesota: An Overview. St. Paul, MN: Research Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, 2007.

This is a joint project of the LCC Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Legislative Reference Library.  The project is made possible by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

MNHS Legacy Grant Receipient Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment