Celebrating Women's History

In the Community

June 1, 2016, Midwestern History Association Conference:
"Finding the Lost Region" at the 
GVSU Hauenstein Center

Sponsored by the Midwestern History Association and the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University.
Full conference information and registration here. 

Or go right to this registration link.

The conference is free, but you need to register in order to assure your seat.

On June 1st, meet academic specialists in midwestern history and learn more about the broader context within which our area history exists. Panels will cover topics from 18th-century mdiwestern political history to the contemporary literature of the Rust Belt. Speakers will come from universities across the Midwest and nation—as well as from the Grand Rapids local history community.

Created in the fall of 2014, the Midwestern History Association is dedicated to rebuilding a field neglected in recent decades. At the same time academic historians have focused on the South and the West, in preference to the Midwest, local historians across the region have been tending the flame—as will be demonstrated by a panel from the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council.

Co-sponsored for the second year by the Hauenstein Center at GVSU, the next step of the MHA will be taken on June 1st in Grand Rapids. Admission to the day-long conference is free and open to the public, so plan to attend! Full information on keynote speakers and paper presentations can be found here.  ***  This event is free and open to the public, but RESERVE! 

The GGRWHC panel, from 2:00 – 3:30 pm, will highlight area history and resources to illustrate how local history experts can enhance the work of professional historians and promote important exchanges in the field. They will use examples of specific historical resources that professional historians would have difficulty finding, even in this digital age, without its volunteer colleagues:


Going Glocal: Shifting Master Narratives Through Grand Rapids Women's History will highlight area history and resources to illustrate how local experts can enhance the work of  professional historians and promote important exchanges in the field. They will share historical resources that professional historians would have difficulty finding, even in this digital age, without its volunteer colleagues, including:

Mining the Mother Lode: Women's WWI Registration Cards and The Council of National Defense: Anita Anthony-Van Orsdal, Michigan State University/Grand Valley State University

  • Creating a Resource: A Unique Record of Women's Elective History: Deirdre Toeller-Novak, Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council
  • Fighting Faulty Assumptions about 1890s Women and Their Clubs, Black and White: Jo Ellyn Clarey, Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council

Gert, Grace and the Berkey & Gay Girls: Women, War & Work in 1910s Grand Rapids

The Berkey & Gay Red Cross Girls, April 1917

Co-sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids
Women's History Council 
and The Grand Rapids Public Library
June 2, 2016, 7:00 pm, GRPL, 3rd Floor
(This program has been rescheduled following a snowstorm on the original March date!)

(the event is free and open to all)

Celebrate the working women of Grand Rapids a hundred years ago. Using unique archival resources, GRPL local history experts will highlight some of the city’s women employed outside their homes. The last decade of the heady Progressive Era opened personal and professional doors for these 11,000 women; the disruptions of wartime provided opportunities in a working world previously off limits. Download flyer here.

GGRWHC in the Media and News worth noting


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.


From 1999 to 2009, she worked with the Grand Rapids Historical Society, serving as its administrative assistant, secretary, and newsletter editor; and since 2012 she has served as board secretary for the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council.

Over the years Van Stee has conducted numerous presentations on Grand Rapids Public Library's resources, particularly at Grand Valley State University's Great Lakes History Conference, introducing an African American newspaper clippings collection and "war in the archives." She has presented on diverse topics to civic groups, college classes, regional conferences, and historical societies. Among them: "A Fresh Look at the Work of Women and Their Contributions to the Economy of Grand Rapids, 1890-1930," "African Americans in Early Grand Rapids History to 1930," "A Suffragist Spring: Taking Over the Grand Rapids Press in 1914,"  and "Spirited Women: Women in Temperance and Prohibition in Grand Rapids."


Other Women

Van Stee is the 37th person to receive this award, and the twelfth woman.  Previous women to receive this award, most of whom were or are members of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council,  are:

Sister Marie Heyda, 1981

Barbara Roelofs, 1986

Mary Ann Edmond, 1988

Mary Jane Dockeray, 1990

Evelyn Sawyer, 1993

Jane Hibbard Idema, 1997

Jo Ellyn Clarey, 1999

Marcia Butgereit, along with her husband Bruce, 2004

Diana Barrett, 2008

Rebecca Smith Hoffman, 2011

Loki Boersma, along with her husband Henry, 2014 


We remember Bessie Ward

Honoring the life of Bessie Ward

Bessie Ward, born in Albion MI in 1931, died on May 14 after an active life in her community which was recognized by many awards. She was a member of the Grand Rapids Association of Black Sockal Workers, the Grand Rapids Study Club, the Volunteer Management Association, the YWCA board, and a strong supporter of the Black Educational Excellence Program. Here Bessie  is pictured at a Grand Rapids Study Club's Founders Day acknowledgement in October, 2013. The group visited its archival collection at the Grand Rapids Public Library. A former librarian and employee of GRPL herself, Bessie has been instrumental in seeing that the group kept its collection up to date since its initial donation in 1987. A member of New Hope Baptist Church, Bessie oversaw the establishment of its library. She was also an early member of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council.


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.