Esther Stassen Biography & Resources

Esther Gladys Glewwe was born in 1906 in South St. Paul, Minnesota, the seventh of twelve children born to successful grocer Henry Glewwe and his wife Martha Patet. The Glewwe and Stassen families were neighbors and members of the same church. Harold Stassen first noticed Esther at a church picnic in May 1918, when she was 12 and he was 11; she ran by in a foot race, her brunette pigtails streaming behind her. Esther graduated from South St. Paul High School and worked as a secretary in a downtown St. Paul law office. She married Harold in 1929 after his graduation from the University of Minnesota Law School. The Stassens had two children, Glen (b. 1936) and Kathleen (b. 1942).

Harold was elected governor of Minnesota in 1931. As Minnesota's first lady, Esther gave public speeches, joined her husband on campaign platforms, and worked for war bond drives. The young first lady attracted international press coverage; she was featured in a Time magazine spread about her husband in 1944 and in London newsreels. Harold was a delegate at the U.N. Charter Conference in San Francisco in 1945, and as hostess at a wives' gathering, Esther learned that Stalin had ordered the Soviet delegates not to negotiate without his authority, information she then shared with Harold. The next day a U.S. diplomat was sent to Russia to talk with Stalin, who relaxed his position and allowed negotiations to continue.

In 1946 Harold began a campaign for U.S. president, and Esther accompanied him on a 72-day tour of Europe during which they met with Stalin, Churchill, Pope Pius XII, and other world leaders. He lost the Republican nomination to Thomas Dewey, who then lost the election to Harry Truman. In 1948 Harold became president of the University of Pennsylvania at Valley Forge. As the president's wife, Esther entertained the presidents of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, hosted university women's teas, and was listed in the Philadelphia Social Register and Who's Who among American Women, 4th edition. She often entertained the president of Columbia University, Dwight D. Eisenhower; both were artists and the pair often discussed painting techniques while others discussed education and politics.

The Stassens returned to Minnesota in 1978, making their home in Bloomington. Esther died in 2000 at age 94; Harold died just four months later.

Harold Stassen papers, 1910-1999 (bulk 1938-1980) (includes Esther Stassen materials)