Celebrating Women's History

In the Community and Beyond


HISTORY DETECTIVES 2017 - Celebrating 10 Years of an Award Winning History Detectives Program that Explores Unique 

Stories from Grand Rapids' Past

Saturday, January 28, at the Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library NE, Grand Rapids 49503 (9:30 - 4:00)

BEGIN THE DAY AT 9:30 A.M. - Representing the GGRWHC will be Janet Sjaarda Sheeres:

A printable program brochure is here.
12:15 — 1:00 p.m.
Boxed lunches are $10 and must be ordered in advance. Choose a turkey, ham, or vegetarian sandwich option (or make any of these gluten-free). Also included in the lunches are a fruit cup, pasta salad, cookie, condiments and bottled water. Pop will be available for an additional $1.00
To reserve a lunch, call 616.988.5492 or email rsvp@grpl.org by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, January 23. Cash only payment is due at the event.



While the stories of male physicians are adequately represented in the medical histories of Michigan, accounts of female midwives have been woefully neglected. And what histories of early American immigrants ever ask, “Who delivered the babies”? Adding to her body of work on invisible Dutch women, Janet Sjaarda Sheeres has uncovered ten midwives working in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Grand Rapids and thirty more in other Dutch colonies. She will address why these women chose work delivering babies; who their clients were; what hardships they faced; and why they are not in our histories. Sheeres’s findings also shed light on the midwives serving other ethnic communities and why they have been sidelined in early historical and census records.  

Janet Sjaarda Sheeres is an independent scholar, genealogist, and freelance author who researches and writes on the subject of family, church, and Dutch emigration/immigration history. For years she has been researching Dutch women and their occupations in both the Netherlands and in their new homeland, the United States. Born in the Netherlands, Sheeres speaks fluent Dutch, has visited many of the major Dutch genealogical libraries and archives, and has used the Family History Library in Salt Lake City over a dozen times. Since she began writing about thirty years ago she has published over 70 articles in various national and international historical and genealogical journals. Her biography, Son of Secession: Douwe J. Vander Werp, was published by Eerdmans in 2006. The Not-So Promised Paradise: The Dutch Colony in Amelia, Virginia 1868-1880 was published by Eerdmans in 2013, and The 1857 to 1880 Synodical Minutes of the Christian Reformed Church, which she edited and annotated, was published in 2014.  


She is an Associate Editor of Origins, the journal of the Calvin College Heritage Hall Archives, has taught genealogy classes for CALL (Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning), and has presented programs to the broader community. As a volunteer in the Calvin College Archives, she recently completed keying all the births, marriages, anniversaries, and obituaries printed in the Calvinist Contact, a Dutch-Canadian weekly, founded in 1946 by the huge wave of Dutch immigrants to Canada. This data base can be found on the Calvin College Heritage Hall website at this link. Sheeres has served as president of the Zeeland, Michigan, Historical Society, AADAS (Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies) and has served as chairperson of the Christian Reformed Church Historical Committee.




Presenters: Julie Stivers, Garret E. Crow, and David P. Warners; Sponsor: Grand Rapids Public Museum
In 1901, Emma Cole published Grand Rapids Flora, a catalog of plants growing without cultivation in the vicinity of Kent County. Enormous changes have taken place since those days, yet her book remains one of the most complete accounts of plants specific to our area. Who was this high school teacher, world traveler, and Kent Scientific Institute botanist? Where were her favorite spots for wildflowers? Do they still exist? Julie Stivers will speak about the life of Emma Cole; Professors Warner and Crow will describe their work with Calvin College students to rediscover Emma’s haunts and assess their natural quality today. There are interesting surprises as we observe the changes over more than 100 years.

Learn more about the work of Calvin College professors, Crowe and Warners at this link.

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.


GGRWHC in the Media and More

Link here for more headlines and stories.

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.


Katherine van Liere joins the GGRWHC Board! Kate is Professor of History at Calvin College. She holds a B.A. in History of Ideas from Williams College, an M.A. in History from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University. Before moving to Grand Rapids taught at the College of Charleston (S.C.). She teaches courses on European and world history since 1500 at Calvin, with an emphasis on the Renaissance and Reformation era, religious history, and historiography. Kate publishes articles on early modern Spanish intellectual history. She also teaches part-time in the Spanish and Dutch departments and directs the History internship program at Calvin.

Kate provides leadership for the Calvin College Internship Program.​  She teaches an occasional class titled "Studies in History of Women & Gender" and she taught "History 294 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum" in which students collaborated with the GRPM in its ongoing efforts to digitize its museum collection. Welcome, Kate!


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.