100 years after being excluded from the Minnesota State Capitol, women rebuilt it

When the Minnesota State Capitol opened to the public and legislators on Jan. 2, 1905, it was a modern wonder, with a dazzling white marble exterior and the latest technology: interior lamps that ran on electricity.

But there was something notably missing from the project, and from the group of legislators and construction workers gathered in St. Paul to celebrate the occasion: women.

Women didn’t work on the construction crews that built the Capitol, and no women were part of architect Cass Gilbert’s original design team. And since there were also no women serving in the state Legislature, the original design of the Capitol didn’t even include women’s restrooms.

Fast forward more than 100 years, as crews finish up work on a massive $310 million project to restore the Capitol for the next 100 years: restoring murals and plaster work in every corner of the building; installing and carving massive slabs of marble on the exterior; rewiring the building to make it a modern workspace. Everyone agrees: It wouldn’t have happened without women.

From the state senator who introduced the first bill to catalog the damage to the state Capitol to the electricians, painters, architects and construction workers, women played an integral part of the building’s restoration — at every level. This time around, when the Capitol celebrates its official reopening in August, there will be a lot more women at the party.

“Every meeting you go to, every time you turn around, it was mostly women at the table,” said Ginny Lackovic, an architect and historic preservationist who spent years working on the Capitol. “I’ve never had a project like that, with such a representation of women from every angle, at all levels.”

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