Celebrating Women's History

In the Community and Beyond

June 27: Michigan Women Who Made a Difference
Jewish Voices Conference

Join women and men from across the state for a day of celebrating and sharing the stories and achievements of Michigan’s Jewish women who helped to build and shape our communities, organizations, and institutions.

Temple Emanuel
1715 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids, Michigan


“The Michigan Women Who Made a Difference project provides a place for preserving Jewish women’s stories and achievements. History has been “his” story. It is imperative to preserve “her” story before it is lost.”  Jeannie Weiner, Jewish Historical Society of Michigan. Link to a brochure with complete program details.

“It takes vision, adaptation, involvement and dedication to accomplish a dream of preserving the past, so it may be enjoyed by the future. L’Dor V’Dor. From Generation to Generation.” Peg Finkelstein, Temple Emanuel

*** Free and open to the public! Refreshments and lunch provided—but please register here for planning purposes.  

8:30 a.m. - Check-in, refreshments and tours of Temple Emanuel

9:30 a.m. - Invocation and welcome [Temple Emanuel features Hearing Loop technology]

9:45 a.m. - Morning Session 1: “How to Preserve Women’s Stories,” a workshop led by Aimee Ergas -- A Show & Tell session, sharing completed biographies.

10:45 a.m. - Break

11:00 a.m. - Morning Session 2: “Making Visible Jewish Women in American Sport History” Linda J. Borish, Western Michigan University

12:15 p.m. - Luncheon and Special Presentation: Excerpts from “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” performed by Grand Rapids’s Lori Jacobs

1:45 p.m. - Panel Discussion: “Cultural Barriers Faced by Jewish Women Yesterday and Today” with Linda J. Borish, Kirsten Fermaglich, Michigan State University, Karla Goldman, Sol Drachler Professor of Social Work, University of Michigan

3:00 p.m. - Thank you and Evaluation

July 21, 2016, 10:00 a.m., DeVos Place (Riverfront). A statue of businesswoman Anna Sutherland Bissell (1894 - 1934) will be installed this summer along the river outside DeVos Place. Eighth in the Community Legends series, Bissell will join Helen Claytor, the first woman so honored. Sponsored by the family of Peter Secchia, the project has also funded statues of Lyon, Chief Noonday, Jay Van Andel, the Most Rev. Frederick Baraga, Lyman Parks, and Stanley Ketchel. 

History of the Grand Rapids Community Legends Project: Mlive.com

Anna Sutherland Bissell was an innovative, progressive businesswoman who built a small carpet sweeper company into an international giant. Her business career began with her marriage to Melville Bissell and their move to Grand Rapids from Kalamazoo in 1871 to expand their crockery and china business. They were a well-matched team. Melville was a skilled inventor and craftsman, and Anna understood marketing and business development. After Melville developed a functional carpet sweeper in 1876, Anna sold their product from town to town, building a broad customer base. When a fire struck the first manufacturing plant in 1884, it was Anna who secured loans from local banks to keep the business going.


            After Melville's death in 1889, Anna became chief executive officer and over the next 30 years built the company into the largest firm of its kind in the world. She initiated progressive labor policies, including workers compensation insurance and pension plans, long before these were widespread in industry.


            The mother of five children, Anna shouldered civic as well as family responsibilities, founding the Bissell Settlement House, which provided aid and education to needy women and their families. She also extended her personal commitment and financial support to the Blodgett Home for Children, the Union Benevolent Association (now Blodgett Memorial Medical Center) and the Clark Memorial Home. In 1991 Anna Bissell's work brought her an honored place as the only woman in the Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes Business Hall of Fame.

Learn more about the life and work of Anna Sutherland Bissell.


July 29, 6:00 p.m., GRPL Main Library, 111 Library St. NE. Whether you are looking for information within your own family tree or researching a piece of women's history for your next project, the Grand Rapids Public Library's History and Special Collections department will offer a free program that will introduce you to valuable resources: 


Learn how to use the microfilm reader/scanner/printer, save images, and take advantage of free copying and printing during the event. Use the time to search databases—we will have plenty of computers available or bring your own laptop and use the library’s WiFi network. Bring your genealogy questions or Ancestry and Heritage Quest problems—volunteers will be on hand to assist. Network with other genealogists —you never know what you might find! Registration required: www.grpl.org/register or call 988-5400.

Speak Up: All About Oral History

Speak Up: All About Oral History
by Jennifer Morrison and Julie Tabberer

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 7-8:30 PM

VanderVeen Center for the Book, Grand Rapids Public Library 

Co-sponsored by the Grand Rapids Public Library 
and the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council


History can be seen as the interpretation of huge collections of stories about individual people, so we want the broadest stockpiles we can manage.  Today some stories are collected as oral histories. These are generally deliberate recordings by individuals about their personal lives and the roles they have played in the broader community. Specific interviews often try to retrieve stories that have been buried or forgotten, to bring new information to light and change the story going forward. Dowload flyer here.


Historian and archivist Jennifer Morrison will use film and audio clips to clarify what we mean by “oral histories” and what they can tell us. Local history librarian Julie Tabberer will report on existing local history projects and highlight the oral history collections of the library, including those histories of women collected by the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council.


The Grand Rapids Public Library and Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council hope that in the future you, too, will want to supplement history as we know it!

For more information, you may contact Julie Tabberer.

GGRWHC in the Media and News worth noting

Get More GGRWHC News Here


Ruth Van Stee Recipient of the 2016 Baxter Award 
Presented by the Grand Rapids Historical Society


"I believe she shows the passion for her work that we value in choosing a deserving recipient for this award."
(John Gelderloos and Alan Bennett, for the Grand Rapids Historical Society board of trustees.)

Ruth Van Stee, presently the secretary of the GGRWHC, is the recipient of this year's Baxter Award, presented at the Grand Rapids Historical Society's spring banquet on May 12. The award honors persons who have made significant contributions to the preservation and interpretation of Grand River Valley history. Created by the GRHS in 1980, it is named in honor of Albert Baxter, author of the 1891 History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  


For over twenty years Ruth Van Stee worked for the Grand Rapids Public Library, primarily among its local history and archival holdings. She specialized in African American collections and an extensive women's newspaper clippings collection. In working with the resources there, she "discovered" a small but culturally rich African American community in early Grand Rapids history and women who were engaged with social justice issues and the economy in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Little was included about either group in earlier comprehensive histories of Grand Rapids.


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.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, the GGRWHC was pleased to welcome local women holding elective office as well as those running for office. Guests had an opportunity to greet Grand Rapids' first woman mayor, Rosalynn Bliss. Other elected officials included Ruth Kelly, city commissioner, Joe Jones, recently appointed to replace Bliss, County commissioners, Carol Hennessy and Mandy Bolter, and State Representative for the 76th House District, Winnie Brinks. 

Those running for office included candidates for the newly created Family Court Judgeship, Deborah McNabb, and Kathleen Bruinsma who is running for a seat on the GRCC board.  




Deirdre Toeller-Novak presented Shattering Glass Ceilings--Women's Elective History in Grand Rapids, 1988-2015, relating the stories of  five "firsts," Grand Rapids women who were elected to office beginning in 1888: Harriet Cook, Eva McCall Hamilton, Grace Ames Van Hoesen, Evangeline Lamberts, and Rosalynn Bliss.


A link to the full program is here.  
See more photos taken by photographer Diane Carroll Burdick from the event at this link.

Not a current member of GGRWHC?  Register or renew your membership and help offset the expenses associated with annual research and programs. Your membership helps to set the record straight on the women who've made history here in our community.