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!
MARK YOUR CALENDAR: JUNE 7 - 10!
GGRWHC WILL OFFER ONE OF THE PANEL PRESENTATIONS (June 7, 2:00 - 3:30 p.m.)
Midwestern History Conference: Finding the Lost Region
GVSU Hauenstein Center, Grand Valley State University
Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium, 401 Fulton Street West
Admission to this day-long conference is free, including a complimentary lunch, and is open to the public. Plan to attend! But you must RESERVE at this link: (scroll down the page for the MHA event) Or, you may call 616-331-2770.
The Midwestern History Association is dedicated to rebuilding a field neglected in recent decades and for the third time will gather specialists here in June, when the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council will introduce 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
Wednesday, June 7th, 2:00 – 3:30 pm
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 will address 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 will provide 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 will 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, will meet in Grand Rapids from June 8-10, immediately following the MHA conference. Elaborating on his work for our MHA panel, on Friday, June 9th, at 10:30am Jayson Otto will present “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. Complete program and registration information can be found at http://www.aghistorysociety.org/meetings/.
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.