In 1992, the election of a record four females to the U.S. Senate stirred people to dub it the Year of the Woman.
Of course, in our most recent election, the country nearly elected its first woman president.
But in Rochester, the celebration of women in leadership was perhaps no bigger than 1989, when women led the Rochester City Council, the Olmsted County Board, and the Rochester
It’s never happened again.
Nancy Selby had been elected city council president in 1988, Jean Michaels was elected to the county board in 1986 and began serving as board chair in 1989, and Pam Smoldt was elected to the school board in 1987 and began her service as president in 1989.
Women were close to majorities or had multiple members on several boards at the time, and it seemed a natural progression to see three women leading the local elected government bodies.
“It really was an amazing time that I think illustrated the potential of leadership by women in Rochester,” says Smoldt, who now lives in Arizona. “There were many talented, smart, and strong leaders. We felt a strong responsibility.”
Smoldt says she felt accepted when she served on other local committees or groups in her capacity as the school board’s leader—even when she was the lone or one of few other women members.
“I really feel fortunate to have served when Nancy and Jean were also leading,” Smoldt says. “They were really good mentors who provided their views and experience to me.”
Selby was a political newcomer when she ran for the council president, but had been in business for 40 years. She combined her business sense with the skills of connecting with voters to defeat Dick Postier, an 18-year incumbent.
At the time, Selby says it took “courage and guts” for her to take on Postier as a political newcomer.
Rochester, just as now, was in the midst of growth in downtown redevelopment in the late 80s, when Selby served. Today, you can tour around and see some of the buildings that were being built or that were secured with financing through that era’s local option sales tax, such as the new city hall, public library and Fire Station No. 1. Part of the downtown development included what’s now the Doubletree hotel (then the Radisson), the post office and University Square (then known as the Galleria).
Selby died in 2009.
Jean Michaels was elected to the Olmsted County Board in 1986, and was one of the longest serving board members—until she lost a special election in 2003 during a mixup in residency in her district, and controversy over a 26-percent pay increase for commissioners.
Michaels was a community volunteer prior to her election, and eventually served three times as board chair during her 17-year career on the board. She was noted for her expertise and work on issues involving social services and community corrections.
She also did noteworthy work for the county and state in her work on ground-water preservation policies and practices.
And while it might be hard for some people to remember, there was a time when smoking in bars and restaurants was allowed. She was among the leaders in Olmsted County that took up the smoking ban and approved it county wide in 2002.
Today, Michaels lives in Duluth.
Pam Smoldt ran for the school board in 1987 when none of its members had children in the district. She had three children in the school district. She was a proponent of the student/school board council as a way for students to have
“You need a mix of people on the school board, because these are the community’s schools, but you do need that parent perspective,” Smoldt says. “I was politically naive, but I learned a lot, and I really enjoyed the chance to be involved at that level for our schools.”
Smoldt recalls that she was approached by a friend and neighbor, Kay Batchelder, who’d noted her involvement on school committees. Batchelder also served on the board during Smoldt’s career, which included changes such as boundary realignments. Smoldt was also on the board during the district’s only teachers strike in 1991.
Smoldt’s advocacy and research with school staff helped push the focus on smaller
“I believe in public schools, and am glad to see young women choose to be involved in their communities through service on boards,” says Smoldt, who now lives in Arizona. “I have eight grandchildren, and I see how tough it is now for those young moms, who are trying to do it all.”