Celebrating Women's History

In the Community and Beyond

Link to information about previous GGRWHC programs and news here.

MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL TIME: Do you need to renew your GGRWHC membership? Use this link now!




Hollyhock Lane: Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting full suffrage to women in 1920, public demonstrations demanding the vote included parading. This year on Tuesday, July 4th, join us to honor the 72-year women's rights movement beginning in 1848 by marching the annual Hollyhock Lane Parade!


Ottawa Hills welcomes honorary neighbors to its yearly morning festivities, beginning with an informal parade. Begun in 1934 it has featured major politicians as well as fire trucks, the Hollymock Band, and kids on bikes and in wagons with candy and flags. Here is a YouTube look at this celebratory and welcoming event.  After the parade the neighborhood gathers in Hollyhock Lane for a brief program featuring Uncle Sam and Miss Liberty. A great way to begin the holiday! 

GGRWHC marchers re-enacting suffragists parading on Grand Rapids streets hope to have fun, but also to remind holiday celebrants one hundred years later to exercise their political rights with dignity and seriousness. And please note: this parade isn't just for women of European extraction. Recent immigrants, ethnic minorities, and certainly Grand Rapids men participated in both local and national suffrage events. Today we’ve had strollers and wheelchairs both on parade! Come on down!


Details below, but when you arrive in Ottawa Hills, look for “suffragists” in white, and Petey, the suffragist dog! Our gaudy yellow and purple GGRWHC marching banner will be out, and you can borrow our “Votes for Women” signs, pennants, and sashes. Dress in as much white as you can manage. We’ll have a few things you could borrow--but just come! Women, any kind of hat (nice, but not necessary); men, a hat or borrow a boater from us. Or wear what you like and join the parade. All ages welcome to the fun!


8:00: Meet GGRWHC participants on the northeast corner of Calvin and Alexander near the Hollyhock Lane alley in Ottawa Hills. Park in the lot of East Congregational on Plymouth or anywhere in the area. If you get lost that morning, call 616-443-4946.

8:30: Parade begins: north on Calvin to Franklin, to Pontiac, south on Iroquois to Alexander, north on Giddings, ending in Hollyhock Lane.

9:00: Ceremonies follow immediately in "Hollyhock Lane," the alleyway the alley behind 847 Giddings.

*** Questions? E-mail info@ggrwhc.org or call (616) 443-4946

** *** ** *** ** *** **

More Hollyhock History!

This YouTube clip is all parade. The Hollyhock Band appears at a minute-and-a-half in; at two-and-a-half, a couple of floats. 

Uncle Sam & Miss Liberty in photos.

More history about the July 4th parade in the past



Midwestern History Conference: Finding the Lost Region
GVSU Hauenstein Center, Grand Valley State University

The Midwestern History Association is dedicated to rebuilding a field neglected in recent decades and for the third time gathered specialists at GVSU, when the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council introduced a little-known adjunct to the Council of National Defense. The CND’s Woman’s Committee was organized in 1917 when the U.S. entered the Great War and was charged with organizing the nation’s women for the war effort.

The Woman’s Committee of the WWI Council of National Defense in the Midwest

The GGRWHC has pioneered work on Woman’s Committee activities on the national, state, and local levels and is pleased to provide an overview of the role of midwestern women in national-level wartime food programs and to feature fascinating on-the-ground reports about urban Grand Rapids and rural Jasper County, Indiana. Finally, this women’s war story has begun making its way into accounts of American history. See our panel description and background story below.



Creating 'An Army of Housewives': Woman's Committee Food Programs of World War I by Anita Anthony-VanOrsdal addressed how demand for midwestern farm products provided women reformers opportunities to shape federal wartime policies and state laws.Powerful coalitions of women in the Midwest directed initial food programs, guiding grassroots efforts throughout the nation by nearly fourteen million American women. Midwestern women remained a vital component of wartime food program successes.



Hooverizing and Managing the Nation’s Women: The Example of Jasper County, Indiana by Sue Caldwell provided rich illustration of top-down management problems in one CND local committee (out of 17,000 nationwide). Her study of Jasper County, Indiana analyzes aspects of women’s experiences with food conservation programs when set in a rural county and the role of food in newspaper propaganda campaigns aiming negative rhetoric specifically at women. The participation of women as wartime enforcers of regulations they did not initiate nevertheless increased their representation on county-level defense councils, opening an eventual wedge into government.


Schoolyard Patriots: Municipal Housekeepers and Government in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Jayson Otto illustrate how well-organized women’s reform movements and clubs were  already primed for engagement in official governmental roles. Their early connections to civic agriculture provided models for WWI projects, and their pre-war public gardening programs for school children transformed into full-blown wartime gardening and preservation projects. The civic work of women reformers in Grand Rapids can complicate our understanding of wartime “municipal housework” and build a fuller picture of the political economy their work supported.


The Agricultural History Society, a long-time national organization, met in Grand Rapids immediately following the MHA conference. Elaborating on his work for our MHA panel, Jayson Otto presented “Saving the ‘Defective’ Child and the Poor Housewife: Public Gardening Programs of Women’s Clubs During the Progressive Era in Grand Rapids, Michigan” for a panel on women’s responses to the challenges of industrialization in the early twentieth century. 


Background: Our education in Grand Rapids began in 2006 when a treasure trove of 23,000 war registration cards for women was rediscovered in the public library. They include genealogical, sociological, and historical data on half the city’s female adult population in 1918, an astonishing census using well over 100 fields. The cards were identified as one wartime effort by the virtually unknown Woman’s Committee of the CND. Michigan enrolled 900,000 women overall, more than any other state, and the Grand Rapids collection is the largest of the very few so far discovered throughout the United States. Its discovery has prompted research beyond the card collection itself, including the 2017 MHA panel and early work by Jayson Otto.


In 2011 Indiana genealogist Sue Caldwell uncovered a complete card collection in rural Jasper County--3,200 of the 626,292 completed statewide. 
In contrast to the urban data from Grand Rapids, the Indiana collection provides a detailed portrait of an entire county’s rural women; and the Indiana material is more extensive. They have an original storage cabinet custom designed by the CND, filled with masses of data.  

Prompted by the 2006 discovery in Grand Rapids and early work by Diana Barrett, Anita Anthony-VanOrsdal began research resulting in her 2015 MSU dissertation on the formation and functioning of the federally mandated Woman’s Committee of the CND, and on the social and political ramifications of its existence. Before her work, virtually no attention had been paid this group arising out of decades-long women’s reform movements. Anthony-VanOrsdal illuminates the link between its past in social reform and women’s new formal position as citizens with a federal mandate.


GGRWHC is pledged to highlight our area’s women’s history for the benefit of professional historians both to learn even more from them and to model how local history experts can promote important exchanges in the field. Stay tuned at www.ggrwhc.org!


Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council
Annual Reception and Program Held on March 29, 2017

Before and Beyond the Bricks and Mortar:
The 1908 Blodgett Home for Children and the Programs It Has Housed
Presented by: Cindy Laug & Diana Barrett


ICCF Assembly Hall (the former Blodgett Home for Children)
920 Cherry Street SE

Learn more about the program in this interview with WGVU's Shelley Irwin: Link to it here.


On Wednesday, March 29, members of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council walked through the Corinthian columns of the most significant building in Fairmount Square for GGRWHC’s celebration of Women’s History Month 2017. A reception and brief annual meeting preceded a program honoring nineteenth-century women who organized the children’s programs behind the 1908 construction of the D. A. Blodgett Home for Children—currently the ICCF and the host building for the meeting. New board members, Michelle DeRose and Melissa Fox were welcomed.

Beginning with the identification of the needs of orphaned children in 1887, Cindy Laug presented an early history of nineteenth-century children’s aid groups into the twentieth century. In 1908 the Children's Home Society moved into the building we know on Cherry Street, courtesy of Delos Blodgett. 

 Diana Barrett shared the story of the Mary Free Bed Guild which used a portion of the building for the rehabilitation of children during the polio epidemic of the 1940s and mid-'50s. By 1948, Mary Free Bed owned the entire buiilding and remained there until it moved to its present site in 1976.  As the need for its use declined, the building fell into disrepair and demolition was recommended. The building was restored by the ICCF in 2006. 

A series of photos were shown of the space in which the GGRWHC meeting was held as it had appeared when filled with children in wheel chairs, resting on rolling beds, wearing braces and celebrating holidays and birthdays. Diana followed the history of the space through its decline and into its current and outstanding restoration.

Appropriately, the GGRWHC event offered an opportunity to toast the recent 125th anniversary of the Mary Free Bed Guild. It was represented by Julie Ridenour, former chair of the Guild. The Guild's founding and current members were inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2016.



Mary Free Bed Guild members attend the October 19 Michigan Women's Hall of Fame Award Dinner at which the Guild was recognized. More here. 

The Mary Free Bed Guild was featured at the GGRWHC March 29, 2017 Annual Reception and Program.



GGRWHC in the Media and More

Link here for more headlines and stories.

March 28, 2017: Interview with WGVU's Shelley Irwin: The Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council presents their annual reception and program Wednesday night, March 29, at the ICCF Assembly Hall. The program is titled, “Before and Beyond the Bricks and Mortar.”  We speak with Jo Ellyn Clarey. Link to the full interview here. 


Ruth Stevens, GGRWHC Board Member, has published an article, "Assistant US Attorney Ella Mae Backus: 'A most important figure in the legal profession in the Western District of Michigan.'" Ruth is an Associate Professor at GVSU where she is a Professor of Legal Studies and the Legal Studies Coordinator. Ruth received her BA from Harvard University and her JD from the University of Michigan Law School. Link to the full article here. 



WACs, WASPs, SPARs, and Marines: Nicknames, Recruiting, and the Wartime Experience of Servicewomen from Grand Rapids: presented by Will Miner on November 10, 2016

Link here for additional program notes and information on women in military service.

And listen to Will's interview with Shelley Irwin on the WGVU Morning Show: Women in the Armed Forces

The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council was pleased to provide the November 10th program of the Grand Rapids Historical Society. The Grand Rapids Public Library’s Will Miner highlighted the WWII experiences of local women Marines to illustrate the first large-scale employment of women in the United States armed forces. 


WZZM takes a look back at the women's suffrage movement in Grand Rapids. Ruth Van Stee was interviewed by WZZM's Juliet Dragos earlier this year.   

Ruth is a board member of the GGRWHC and the publisher of the organization's newsletter. A graduate of Calvin College, Ruth retired from the Grand Rapids Public Library where she worked in the Children's Library, Local History, and Special Collections. She is also the newsletter editor for the Grand Rapids Historical Society.



GGRWHC board member, Julie Tabberer, recently named the Local History Department supervisor with the Grand Rapids Public Library, was interviewed as a part of C-SPAN's Cities Tour, Grand Rapids series. Julie presented an inside view into the library's furniture design and rare books collections. See the full interview here. The GRPL's Furniture Design Collection is the second largest in the country. From the late-19th century through the first half of the 20th century, Grand Rapids was a major center of U.S. furniture production. 

Look especially around minute four of the video for a segment on women's early role in the furniture industry!

Julie holds an MILS degree from Wayne State University and has worked as a librarian and library assistant in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department at GRPL. She previousl worked in the archives of Steelcase, Frederick Meijer Gardens, and Davenport University.

Longtime friend and member of GGRWHC, WGVU's Shelley Irwin is named the 2016 Athena Recipient: "Now in its 27th year in the greater Grand Rapids community, the prestigious ATHENA Award honors an individual who has demonstrated leadership in their professional field, mentored and opened doors of opportunities for women, and contributed time and talent to the community." 



Congratulations to GGRWHC member, Dixie Anderson, West Michigan World Affairs Council direction, on receiving the Foreigh Policy Association Medal this month at the Harvard Club of New York. The medal recognizes individuals who demonstrate responsible internationalism and work to expand public knowledge of international affairs. See the full Mlive story here.

Reprise: GGRWHC Annual Reception & Program

March 30, 2016

Program: Shattering Glass Ceilings—Women’s Elective History in Grand Rapids, 1888-2015  

Special guest: Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

One hundred-twenty people attended our annual  reception and celebration of Women's History Month on March 30 at the Women's City Club. The large group enjoyed an evening with drinks and wonderful hors d'oeuvres, prepared by the Women's City Club chef.

A link to the full program is here.