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Carleton to Host Film Screening on the Life of Justice Rosalie Wahl

April 25, 2013
By Jacob Cohn '13

In collaboration with the League of Women Voters of Northfield and Cannon Falls, Carleton College will host a special screening of the documentary film, “Girl from Birch Creek: The Life and Legacy of Justice Rosalie Wahl,” about the life and legacy of the first woman to sit on the Minnesota Supreme Court, on Saturday, Apr. 27 at 11 a.m. in the Weitz Center for Creativity Cinema. Complimentary coffee and refreshments will be provided at 10:45 a.m., and the producers of the film will lead a discussion following the screening. This event is free and open to the public.


Narrated by NPR’s Nina Totenberg, “Girl from Birch Creek” tells the story of Rosalie Wahl, Minnesota’s first female Supreme Court justice. The film includes interviews with Wahl herself, who played a key role in the struggle for equal opportunity for Minnesota women.


Justice Wahl overcame hardship and tragedy to fight for civil rights, women’s rights and equal access to justice. In 1962, at the age of 38, and “tired of sitting outside doors waiting for the men inside to make the decisions,” Wahl entered the William Mitchell School of Law. Her fifth and last child was born in 1964. In 1967 she graduated with her law degree and passed the state bar examination. Immediately thereafter she began working for the state as an assistant public defender. In 1972, the same year she and her husband divorced, Wahl taught criminal law at the University of Minnesota. The following year she accepted a professorship at William Mitchell where she directed the clinical legal education program.


In 1977 Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Wahl to the Supreme Court to replace Harry H. MacLaughlin. Wahl’s appointment was significant as she was the first woman jurist to sit on the state’s highest court. While on the Supreme Court, Wahl served as its liaison to the Court’s Study Commission on the Mentally Disabled and also chaired its task forces on gender fairness and racial bias.

Elected to the court in 1978 and successively reelected in 1984 and 1990, Wahl retired at the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1994. When she retired, women held four of the seven Supreme Court seats.


Wahl was awarded an honorary degree by Carleton College in 1987.


“Girl from Birch Creek” was produced by Lightshed Productions, a Minnesota film production company specializing in historical/biographical films and films related to public policy, which “illuminate the critical issues of our time.” Lightshed was founded by John Kaul (producer, videographer and editor) and Emily Haddad (writer, director, videographer and editor), and is responsible for such films as “Doing Minnesota Justice,” which looks at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and “Democrats at War: Mondale Reflects on 1968,” a historical documentary produced for a Minnesota Historical Society exhibition. Both Haddad and Kaul will be present at the screening to lead a Q & A session.


This event is sponsored by the Carleton College Humanities Center, the Cannon Valley Carleton Alums, and the League of Women Voters. For more information about this event, including disability accommodations, contact the Carleton College Humanities Center at (507) 222-5446. The Weitz Center for Creativity is located at the corner of Third and College Streets in Northfield.