Feminist pioneer Horbal dead at 80
ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — Koryne Horbal, a feminist pioneer and the first woman to chair the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, died Monday evening at an assisted living facility in Arden Hills.
Horbal suffered from congestive heart failure and her health had declined recently, said Rosemary Rocco, her close friend and caregiver. Horbal was 80 years old.
During her five decades in politics, Horbal helped bring feminist values into the mainstream of the Democratic Party and blazed a trail for other women into the corridors of power.
"What you can see as you look back over her career, she was opening the path for a wider column of women coming behind," Rocco said. "She was the unstoppable force meeting unmovable objects and ... making unmovable objects move."
After her nine-year turn at the head of the DFL, Horbal was appointed in the 1970s to serve as the American ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, where she helped craft a treaty to ensure equal rights across the globe. She also helped found women's caucuses of the DFL and the Democratic National Committee.
"Koryne mentored many young women thinking about running for office," DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in an emailed statement. "She has left an amazing legacy for which we are all grateful."
Born Koryne Emily Kaneski in 1937, Horbal spent much of her childhood in the small Iron Range town of Eveleth, Minn., where her father helped introduce her to politics.
"He was very interested in Eleanor Roosevelt and we were all girls in the family," Horbal told the New York Times in 1982. "He would talk to us at the dinner table about not letting our gender hamper us in anything we wanted to do."
The family eventually moved to Anoka, Minn., where Horbal went to high school with Garrison Keillor. It was also in high school where Horbal met her husband, William. The couple married in the late 1950s and had two children.
Horbal got her first taste of activism when the local city government decided to close a park near their house. Horbal fought the decision and won.
In 1963, she became the first woman to lead the DFL party, albeit with a male co-chair. On Horbal's first day in the office, the men she worked with asked her to make curtains for the windows, Rocco said.
Horbal also discovered that, while her co-chair received a paycheck from the party, she did not.
"That started me thinking that women in the party were really powerless," she told the Times in 1982. To force change in this boys' club culture, Horbal and four other women founded the DFL Feminist Caucus in 1973.
"She just had a take-no-prisoners attitude," said her friend Betty Folliard, a former Minnesota state legislator who now hosts the radio show "A Woman's Place." "She knew from the very bottom of her soul that all people are created equal, and she wouldn't take no for an answer."
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Horbal to the United Nations, where she served on the Economic and Social Council's Commission on the Status of Women.
For the next four years, she divided her time between her home in Columbia Heights and New York City, where she shared an apartment with activist and author Gloria Steinem.
Horbal's time on the commission was notable for its adoption of the landmark Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which "is often described as the international bill of rights for women," according to the U.N.
Nearly 190 nations have ratified CEDAW, but the United States is not among them — a fact that rankled Horbal, Rocco said.
Horbal stepped down from the U.N. when Ronald Reagan took office and returned to Minnesota more or less full-time, where she continued to work in politics while pitching in at William's contracting firm. A natural people-person, Horbal was a gifted fundraiser for the DFL, Rocco said.
"She really liked people and was genuinely interested in hearing their stories," Rocco said. "She would establish a relationship, and then she would also ask for money."
In 2004, Augsburg College in Minneapolis established the Koryne Horbal lecture series in her honor, drawing the likes of Jane Fonda and Horbal's friend Steinem to its campus. In 2008, the university awarded Horbal an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
When William died in spring 2015, Horbal moved into an assisted living facility in Maplewood. As her own health deteriorated early this year, she moved into Johanna Shores in Arden Hills, where she received a succession of visitors from Minnesota's political establishment.
Folliard and Rocco said anyone wishing to honor Horbal's memory should urge Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and ratify CEDAW.
"She wanted something to be done for women" in her memory, Rocco said. "You just never said no to Koryne Horbal."
Horbal is survived by her children, Lynn Horbal and Steven Horbal. Funeral arrangements are pending.