In the Community and Beyond

Hollyhock Lane Annual Independence Day Parade:

Ottawa Hills welcomes honorary neighbors to its yearly morning festivities, beginning with an informal parade. Begun in 1934 it has  featured major politicians as well as fire trucks, the Hollyhock Band, and kids on bikes and in wagons with candy and flags. Here is a YouTube look at this celebratory and welcoming event.  After the parade the neighborhood gathers in Hollyhock Lane for a brief program featuring Uncle Sam and Miss Liberty. A great way to begin the holiday! 

GGRWHC marchers re-enacting suffragists parading on Grand Rapids streets always have fun, but also want to remind holiday celebrants one hundred years later to exercise their political rights with dignity and seriousness. This parade isn't just for women of European ancestry immigrants, ethnic minorities, and certainly Grand Rapids men participated in both local and national suffrage events. Strollers and wheelchairs are seen along the parade route as well! 

More Hollyhock History!

This YouTube clip is all parade. The Hollyhock Band appears at a minute-and-a-half in; at two-and-a-half, a couple of floats. 

Uncle Sam & Miss Liberty in photos.

More history about the July 4th parade in the past. 

The Woman’s Committee of the WWI Council of National Defense in the Midwest

The GGRWHC has pioneered work on Woman’s Committee activities on the national, state, and local levels and is pleased to provide an overview of the role of midwestern women in national-level wartime food programs and to feature fascinating on-the-ground reports about urban Grand Rapids and rural Jasper County, Indiana. Finally, this women’s war story has begun making its way into accounts of American history. See our panel description and background story below.



Creating 'An Army of Housewives': Woman's Committee Food Programs of World War I: by Anita Anthony-VanOrsdal addressed how demand for midwestern farm products provided women reformers opportunities to shape federal wartime policies and state laws.Powerful coalitions of women in the Midwest directed initial food programs, guiding grassroots efforts throughout the nation by nearly fourteen million American women. Midwestern women remained a vital component of wartime food program successes.



Hooverizing and Managing the Nation’s Women: The Example of Jasper County, Indiana: by Sue Caldwell provided rich illustration of top-down management problems in one CND local committee (out of 17,000 nationwide). Her study of Jasper County, Indiana analyzes aspects of women’s experiences with food conservation programs when set in a rural county and the role of food in newspaper propaganda campaigns aiming negative rhetoric specifically at women. The participation of women as wartime enforcers of regulations they did not initiate nevertheless increased their representation on county-level defense councils, opening an eventual wedge into government.


Schoolyard Patriots: Municipal Housekeepers and Government in Grand Rapids, Michigan: by Jayson Otto illustrate how well-organized women’s reform movements and clubs were  already primed for engagement in official governmental roles. Their early connections to civic agriculture provided models for WWI projects, and their pre-war public gardening programs for school children transformed into full-blown wartime gardening and preservation projects. The civic work of women reformers in Grand Rapids can complicate our understanding of wartime “municipal housework” and build a fuller picture of the political economy their work supported.


The Agricultural History Society, a long-time national organization, met in Grand Rapids immediately following the MHA conference. Elaborating on his work for our MHA panel, Jayson Otto presented “Saving the ‘Defective’ Child and the Poor Housewife: Public Gardening Programs of Women’s Clubs During the Progressive Era in Grand Rapids, Michigan” for a panel on women’s responses to the challenges of industrialization in the early twentieth century. 


Background: Our education in Grand Rapids began in 2006 when a treasure trove of 23,000 war registration cards for women was rediscovered in the public library. They include genealogical, sociological, and historical data on half the city’s female adult population in 1918, an astonishing census using well over 100 fields. The cards were identified as one wartime effort by the virtually unknown Woman’s Committee of the CND. Michigan enrolled 900,000 women overall, more than any other state, and the Grand Rapids collection is the largest of the very few so far discovered throughout the United States. Its discovery has prompted research beyond the card collection itself, including the 2017 MHA panel and early work by Jayson Otto.


In 2011 Indiana genealogist Sue Caldwell uncovered a complete card collection in rural Jasper County--3,200 of the 626,292 completed statewide.  In contrast to the urban data from Grand Rapids, the Indiana collection provides a detailed portrait of an entire county’s rural women; and the Indiana material is more extensive. They have an original storage cabinet custom designed by the CND, filled with masses of data.  

Prompted by the 2006 discovery in Grand Rapids and early work by Diana Barrett, Anita Anthony-VanOrsdal began research resulting in her 2015 MSU dissertation on the formation and functioning of the federally mandated Woman’s Committee of the CND, and on the social and political ramifications of its existence. Before her work, virtually no attention had been paid this group arising out of decades-long women’s reform movements. Anthony-VanOrsdal illuminates the link between its past in social reform and women’s new formal position as citizens with a federal mandate.


GGRWHC is pledged to highlight our area’s women’s history for the benefit of professional historians both to learn even more from them and to model how local history experts can promote important exchanges in the field. Stay tuned at!

February 13, 2017: Program by the Grand Rapids Historical Society and the West Michigan Postcard Club presented by GGRWHC member,

Ruth  Van Stee: 

In the 1850 census there were only 15 citizens in Grand Rapids who named their race as Black or Mulatto. By 1880, 100 African Americans resided in the city of 50,000, less than 1% of the total population. By 1920, just before the first "great migration" of African Americans from the southern states to northern cities, the African American population in Grand Rapids was still only 1% of the total. Who were these early Grand Rapids residents and what did they contribute to the culture of this area? 

Ruth Van Stee will give an overview of the population and snapshots of the lives of some of the members of this small but culturally rich community. At the turn of the last century, one of the wealthiest "colored men" in the nation lived in Grand Rapids. Another was one of the "most prominent Colored men in Michigan" according to a Detroit newspaper. Yet another continued the fight for his civil rights with the Ramona entertainment centers in 1904.

Van Stee, secretary of the board of the GGRWHC, retired from the Grand Rapids Public library where she worked in the local history department. She has previously offered presentations on women business owners in Grand Rapids, local women leaders in the suffrage movement, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. 

HISTORY DETECTIVES 2017 - Celebrating 10 Years of an Award Winning History Detectives Program that Explores Unique 
Stories from Grand Rapids' Past

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

Link to  a WGVU Morning Show interview with Shelley Irwin about the program.

Watch the full program here. (Find "Present, But Not Counted" beginning at 17:15 minutes. Find "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" at 3:45).


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.

Michigan Women's Hall of Fame

Congratulations to Mary Free Bed Guild Inducted on October 19

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.”

Guild Members attending the award ceremony.

Carol Springer, Guild President, accepts the MWHF award.

The Mary Free Bed 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 Guild Convalescent Home and Orthopedic Center.

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.

Also: Lottie Wilson Jackson

As the lone African-American delegate at the 1899 national suffrage meeting in Grand Rapids , Lottie Wilson Jackson represented the National Colored Woman Suffrage Association. She was a popular interview subject for the local press and reported that her organization's efforts were "all for the uplifting of our colored sisters. If white women need the ballot, the colored need it no less." Her resolution that "colored women ought not be compelled to ride in smoking cars, and that suitable accommodations should be provided" them when travelling, caused the biggest stir at the convention and illustrates the decades-long tensions between reform movements. After stirring debate the resolution was finally tabled as a cause "outside the province of the convention." Michigan native Jackson studied art in Chicago , then lived in suffrage-stronghold Bay City, reportedly devoting the proceeds from her miniature portraits on ivory and porcelain to the cause of equal suffrage.

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).

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 month. 

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.

A timely article by board member Kristin Du Mez: 

GGRWHC board member Kristin Du Mez is an associate professor in History and Gender Studies at Calvin College. Her areas of specialty include women’s history and American religious history. Her first book, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism, was published in 2015. Her upcoming book is a religious history of Hillary Rodham Clinton. An article, “Hillary Clinton’s history of faith is long and rich. This week, she should talk about it,"  was published just prior to the Democratic National Convention in July in the Washington Post. Link to it here.

Grand Rapids’s role in the movement to win the right to vote was pivotal in the decades before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Local suffragist Emily Burton Ketcham began her work for women’s suffrage in 1873 during the initial effort to strike gender as a qualification for voting in Michigan. We believe that Ketcham had met Susan B. Anthony when she lived in Rochester NY during the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. They likely crossed paths again when Ms. Anthony campaigned in Michigan during that early 1870s effort. They developed a lasting friendship by 1892 when Anthony used one of her many trips to the area to stand in the receiving line at Ketcham’s 25th wedding anniversary. Anthony proselytized for women’s rights while wearing a silk gown that was described in detail in the newspaper’s society page.

Some of Anthony’s trips to Michigan seem to have coincided with state suffrage meetings—very likely those at which Emily Burton Ketchum served as the state chair. By 1899 Emily Burton Ketcham had contracted to bring Susan B. Anthony and the entire National American Woman Suffrage Association to Grand Rapids for its annual meeting. It was only the third time NAWSA had ever met outside DC, and it never met again in Michigan. Anthony's host, Delos Blodgett, was considered a "patron saint" of the movement. Linked is an article written by Jo Ellyn Clarey for Grand Rapids Magazine in 2005.


July 21, 2016: Eighth in the Community Legends series, Anna Sutherland Bissell has joined Helen Claytor, the first woman so honored. A statue of businesswoman Anna Sutherland Bissell (1846 - 1934) was installed along the river outside DeVos Place. 
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:
Learn more about the life and work of Anna Sutherland Bissell. 

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.