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!


EARTH DAY: Saturday, April 22, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.


The first 17 acres of land on which Blandford Nature Center sits was donated in 1965 by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Blandford at the behest of Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray. Mary Jane began her career as a nature lecturer at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in 1949. She became the curator of the nature center when it opened in 1968. With the assistance of grants from the State of Michigan, the City of Grand Rapids eventually brought the total acreage to143. Blandford now encompasses an interpretive center, farm demonstrations, historic buildings, nature trails through diverse habitats and is the site of the Blandford Environmental Education Center for sixth grade students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. 

Mary Jane received her Ph.D. in geology from MSU and has been a gift to the nature community throughout Michigan at every step along the way. Her list of awards fills pages. There are two of which she is most proud: the 1985 Michigan Audubon Society Outstanding Member Award and a Mary Jane Dockeray Scholarship established by friends to recognize outstanding high school seniors planning on science careers. Her professional memberships include the Michigan Audubon Society, the National Audubon Society, numerous environmental, museum, and parks societies, as well serving as an appointed member of the 1985-88 Governor's Wilderness & Natural Areas Advisory Board.

Saturday will mark the ribbon cutting for the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center at Blandford. There will be building tours, walks through the woods and fields of the Center and guaranteed wildlife encounters. Learn more about Blandford Nature Center at this link.


MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR JUNE 7 - 10!  GGRWHC will offer one of the panel presentations.

The Midwestern History Association conference will return to Grand Rapids on June 7, courtesy of GVSU Hauenstein Center sponsorship. The third meeting of this new organization will occur immediately before the national conference of a much older group, the Agricultural History Society, meeting here June 8-10. Both groups will highlight the agricultural and rural history of the American Midwest, as will a Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council panel engaging the AHS’s theme “Who is a farmer?” 

June 7, 2:00 pm.:  The Woman’s Nominating Committee of the WWI Council of National Defense in the Midwest

Organizer & Chair: Jo Ellyn Clarey, Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council 

Paper #1:  “Creating 'An Army of Housewives': Woman's Committee Food Programs of World War I," Anita Anthony-VanOrsdal, Michigan State University

Paper #2:  “Hooverizing and Managing the Nation’s Women: The Example of Jasper County, Indiana,” Sue Caldwell, Director-At-Large of the Indiana Genealogical Society & Jasper County Genealogist for the IGS

Paper #3:  “Schoolyard Patriots: Municipal Housekeepers and Government in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” Jayson Otto, Aquinas College

This panel will engage the Agricultural History Society’s question “Who is a farmer?” with specific examples of midwestern rural and urban women organized during wartime by the 1917 Woman’s Committee of the U.S. Council of National of Defense, a federal wartime agency charged with organizing the nation’s women for the war effort. In recent years information about the Woman's Committee of the CND and its state and local representatives has finally begun making its way into accounts of U.S. women’s history. 


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.