Taking the Lead with Amy Caucutt (2013)

Printing and cover design: North Star Press, Editing: Susanne Kelsey

A project sponsored by the Rochester League of Women Voters. The book chronicles and preserves the history of twenty-five notable women who courageously sought to shape public policymaking during the 1970s, a period of change in the Rochester, Minnesota, community. The book has an Introduction written by Lori Sturdevant, author and Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist.


Karen Ricklefs was used to being one of the guys. One of her favorite stories related to this took place in 1957, when she transferred at the start of her junior year to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. She was a math major, and before she could continue in that field at ISU she was required to “pass” an interview with Dr. Hinrickson, the head of the math department. Hinrickson was a tall (“really tall” as Karen recalls) man who wore his glasses at the end of his long, hooked nose. This combination of height and the position of his glasses had him looking down at nearly everyone he encountered. As he looked down at Karen he said,  “What makes you think you’re smart enough to be a math major here?”

The only words of reply that came to Karen were, “Well, I am!” Dr. Hinrickson let her in, and fate would have it that he was her professor for her first math course, Differential Equations. There were forty-two men and one woman, Karen, in the class. Karen recalls that about a month into the quarter, after Hinrickson had picked on her constantly, he assigned two problems to the class. She worked on them all weekend, and it took her both sides of seven pages to writeher solution.

In class on Monday, Dr. Hinrickson asked, “Did anyone get those problems done?“ Karen was the only one who raised a hand. Hinrickson said, “Oh, no. You didn’t.”

Karen replied, “Oh, I did and I believe they’re right.”

“Well, put them on the board.” There were blackboards on all four walls of the classroom. Karen began writing her solution on one board and commenced to “write her way all around the room.” As she began to erase the first board so she could make her second loop, Hinrickson grew impatient. “What’s your answer?” Karen told him. She was right. Soon after, Hinrickson hired her to work for him in the math office. At ISU in 1957, Karen, too, had become “one of the guys.”