Celebrating Women's History

In the Community and Beyond

Women’s Equality Day, 2016

On August 26, 1920, women in the United States won the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Women’s Equality Day is celebrated each year on August 26 to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment and to call attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. (photo and text: National Women’s History Project website).

Celebrate Locally on August 25. 
Celebrate with women throughout the nation as the GGRWHC celebrates Equality Day. This year we will distribute information one day EARLY, Thursday, August 25. Visit our table on the patio of the Grand Rapids Art Museum from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm to talk about the day and leaders of the local movement beginning in the early 1870s!


For your Calendar! October 19, 2016 

Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame
Awards Dinner & Induction Ceremony
Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Link here to RSVP

Kellogg Hotel & conference Center
219 S. Harrison Road
East Lansing MI 48823

Reception – 5:00 p.m. * * * * Dinner – 6:00 p.m. * * * * Ceremony – 7:00 p.m.

Contemporary Inductees

Dr. Anan Ameri
Rev. Faith Fowler
Dr. Olivia Lett
Diana Ross
Lou Anna Kimsey Simon

Historical Inductees

Elizabeth Sparks Adams (1911-007)
Daisy Elliott (1917 – 2015)
Dr. Evelyn Golden (1913 – 2005)
Mary Free Bed Guild
Charlotte “Lottie” Wilson (1854 – 1914)

Philip A. Hart Award

The Honorable Damon JH. Keith

More information about the inductees here.

Congratulations to the Mary Free Bed Guild on their induction into the
Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame!

Mary Free Bed Guild has roots dating to 1891 when a group of Grand Rapids women sought to help people who could not afford health care. They passed a small black purse asking anyone named Mary – or anyone who knew someone named Mary – to donate ten cents.  The group quickly raised enough money to fund a local hospital bed called the “Mary free bed.”

The Mary Free Bed mission: Restore hope and freedom through rehabilitation.

What they do: Ensure a medically sound and fiscally solid rehabilitation operation.

How they do it: See with their hearts to understand what is important.

Guild-sponsored rehabilitation initially focused on children. The first pediatric orthopedic clinic was opened in 1920. In 1923, the Guild worked with the Grand Rapids Public Schools to establish accessible classrooms for children with disabilities. The Guild’s Children’s Convalescent Home opened in 1930, received designation as the orthopedic center for western Michigan by the Michigan Crippled Children’s Commission in 1934 and was renamed the Mary Free Bed Gild Convalescent Home and Orthopedic Center. Other key dates in the Guild’s history:

  • 1938 – Brace Shop established
  • 1946 – Juvenile Amputee Training Program became a national model
  • Care for polio patients and children impacted by Thalidomide who filled beds through the mid-20th century
  • 1953 – Mary Free Bed began providing adult rehabilitation
  • 1976 – larger facilities opened at the current main campus
  • Sub-specialized programs are established: cancer rehabilitation, motional analysis center, assistive technology, driver rehabilitation, a spine center

These compassionate beginnings grew to include a $62.5 million flagship hospital, home to 167 inpatient beds, 14 inpatient and 31 outpatient programs, a medical group, and a rehabilitation network that provides expertise throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

The Mary Free Bed Guild governing the hospital consists of 120 women who reflect the Guild’s commitment to the hospital, the greater community, and to persons with disabilities. Since 1985, the Guild has donated more than $21 million to dozens of organizations dedicated to furthering quality of life for persons with disabilities, including the lead gift to create the world’s first, universally-designed YMCA that benefits persons of all abilities.


WACs, WASPs, SPARs, and Marines:
Nicknames, Recruiting, and the Wartime Experience of Servicewomen from Grand Rapids

by Will Miner,
Grand Rapids Public Library History and Special Collections

Thursday, November 10, 2016, 7:00pm
Ryerson Auditorium, Grand Rapids Public Library

The Second World War saw the first large-scale employment of women in the armed forces of the United States. Initially unwelcomed by the services, women were first accepted by the Army, later the Navy and Coast Guard, and finally the Marine Corps. This struggle for acceptance is reflected in how they were portrayed in the media, how they were recruited and trained, and even in the nicknames they were given. This presentation will include record of the struggle in Grand Rapids and examine how, though being the most resistant of all the forces, the Marine Corps ultimately became the most progressive branch of the armed services in its acceptance of women.

Co-sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society & Grand Rapids Public Library


July 21, 2016, 10:00 a.m., DeVos Place (Riverfront). A statue of businesswoman Anna Sutherland Bissell (1846 - 1934) was installedalong the river outside DeVos Place. Eighth in the Community Legends series, Bissell has joined 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. See more photos and read about the July 21 event in MLive.

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.



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

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.  



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.