Charlotte Zietlow. Photo by Rodney Margison


Many Bloomingtonians will recognize the name Charlotte Zietlow, which is engraved on the local justice center, but may not have met the woman who bears it. Zietlow’s new memoir, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives, written with Michael Glab, fills in the details of her story. The location of the justice center, which Zietlow played a leading role in building, provides clues to her role in the community: It sits close to the current chambers of the City Council that Zietlow served on, and it’s not far from Goods for Cooks, the local kitchen supply store she co-founded.

But Zietlow wasn’t always a Bloomington institution. When she moved to town in 1964, she admits she didn’t have high hopes: Bloomington sounded like a “godforsaken” place, “at the end of the world.”

And indeed, she was initially struck not only by the racism and provincialism of her new home, but also by its lack of the get-up-and-go attitude that marks her approach to life.

With a firm faith in her own convictions that may come along with being a minster’s daughter (thus, the book’s title), Zietlow recounts how she set about shaking things up. She recalls that a lot of people said no to her along the way. Although she had a Ph.D. in linguistics, she could not find a steady academic position. And even when she turned to public service, she lost many more elections than she won. But, as Zietlow says, “I don’t mind losing. It doesn’t knock me out.”

Zietlow won enough elections to have a lasting impact: She was the first woman to head the Bloomington City Council and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners. She also worked for nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood, United Way, and Middle Way House.

Though her book details many bitter controversies, Zietlow has no regrets. As she says, “Politics is messy. It’s inefficient. But it’s bringing different ideas and people together to get something done.”

Her approach to life is ultimately both practical and philosophical: “Not all ideas work but some are worth working toward.”