Based on an original compilation by Falinda Geerling.


Twink Frey was doing research for a paper on the role of women in the history of Grand Rapids. She found little or nothing, either at the local or state levels about the many women who had helped found and shape the city and its surrounding area. Knowing that women had played an enormous role in the development of the region, Frey began to contact others who had a similar interest in systematic research, documentation, and preservation of the lives and contributions of former Grand Rapids and West Michigan women.


1988 – EARLY 1991

In November 1989, steering committee members held a conference on women’s history at Aquinas College. Its title was “An Ear to the Past, an Eye to the Future.”

  • Twink Frey
  • Sue Conklin
  • Mary Meade Fuger
  • Jane Henderson
  • Gwen Hibbard
  • Jane Idema
  • Bunny Voss
  • Mary Alice Williams
  • Gordon Olson
  • Lillian Sigal
  • Jinny DeJong
  • Carolyn Grin
  • Kyle Irwin
  • Bessie Ward
  • Jackie Johnson
  • Jean Hainer
  • Vernis Schad


In November 1989, steering committee members held a conference on women’s history at Aquinas College. Its title was “An Ear to the Past, an Eye to the Future.”

Chair Mary Alice Williams and a nominations committee researched and wrote their first recommendation to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Anna Sutherland Bissell (1846-1934) was inducted and joined Pearl Kendrick, Grace Eldering, Helen Claytor, Madeleine LaFramboise, and Betty Ford on the list. Throughout the 1990s the other Grand Rapids women added were: Dorothy Leonard Judd, Roberta Griffith, Joan Wolfe, and Emily Burton Ketcham.


In January 1990, the Articles of Incorporation (i.e., bylaws) were submitted to the Michigan Department of Commerce. Thus, the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, a nonprofit, was formed. Sue Conklin researched and shaped this necessary and important document. It represented the link between Twink Frey’s feelings about the lack of documented local women’s history and the steering committee members’ concrete ideas and aims for accomplishing her vision.

1991 – 1992

President Bunny Voss

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The steering committee was now referred to as the “board.” The first executive committee members were:

  • President—Bunny Voss
  • Vice President/Secretary—Sue Conklin
  • Treasurer—Jane Henderson

The committee chairs were: Jackie Johnson, bibliography; Jinny De Jong, education; Joan Garety, finance; Mary Alice Williams, Hall of Fame nominations; Vernis Schad, membership; Carolyn Grin, oral history/research.

Board members included: Margo Anderson, Lola Baez, Diane Casey, Margaret Cook, Mary Meade Fuger, Jean Hainer, Gwen Hibbard, Jane Idema, Kyle Irwin, Shirley Kleiman, Gordon Olson, Shelley Pew, Vernis Schad, and Bessie Ward.

Start up of Legacy series: The Council inaugurated tri-annual, month-long, area-wide observations of Women’s History Month. Legacy was intended to encourage area women’s and community groups to present programs drawing attention to women and their contributions and resulted in increased awareness among organizations and the general public of the importance of women’s history. In addition, a remarkable unification among women’s groups, from social and business organizations to academic and governmental institutions, occurred. The collaborative planning and presentation of diverse programs throughout the month of March became a grand public celebration of the achievements of women, young and old, past and present, famous and ordinary. The first Legacy was managed by the Council itself. Chairs of the following Legacies were:

  • Legacy 1994: Jean Enright and Leann Arkema
  • Legacy 1997: Cecile Fehsenfeld and Terri Handlin
  • Legacy 2000: Susan Shannon and Toni Turner
  • Legacy 2003: Jackie Taylor
  • Legacy 2006: Debra Muller and Fran Pepper
  • Legacy 2010: Falinda Geerling

1992 – 1993

Mary Alice Williams

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The board membership was essentially the same, except MargEd Kwapil had joined (her first of three discrete terms). The executive committee included:

  • President—Mary Alice Williams
  • Vice President—Vernis Schad
  • Secretary—Bessie Ward
  • Treasurer—Jinny De Jong

The committee chairs remained the same, except that Kyle Irwin replaced Jinny DeJong as education chair.

1993 – 2000

Vernis Schad

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Vernis Schad replaced Mary Alice Williams as president; Jo Ellyn Clarey came onto the board as secretary (the first of two different terms over the years); Barbara Amberg joined the board as research chair; Laurie Chesley chaired Hall of Fame nominations; Linda Thompson joined as membership chair; and Marg Ed Kwapil became newsletter chair.


Just one example from Legacy 1994: Jean Reed Bahle was commissioned to write and produce a play for the city’s fifth graders featuring four local women.


First publication of Women in Grand Rapids History: A Guide to Resources in the Local History Department of the Grand Rapids Public Library, a bibliography of holdings on local women’s history. A special issue of the Grand River Valley History based on materials from Legacy 1994 was also published, featuring more substantive articles than had generally appeared to date on area women’s history.


Month-long March series in local schools and institutions such as Central High School and Clark's Retirement Home.


For Legacy 1997, the Council created a traveling photographic exhibit, Twelve Outstanding Women, for display at programs, conferences, and other events.


With the Grand Rapids Cantata Choir, we oversaw the Midwest premiere of the first mass composed by a woman, Amy Beach, and honored local women composers.


The GGRWHC filled the St. Cecilia auditorium with a centennial re-enactment of the national convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association meeting there in 1899 with Susan B. Anthony.



Mary Seeger

2001 - 2011

Organizing four panels annually on Grand Rapids history at GVSU's Great Lakes History Conference


Scanning and making digitally available a treasure trove of information from 23,000 WWI registration cards for women rediscovered in the Grand Rapids Public Library.


Running workshops on research methods, doing oral histories, using digitized historical newspapers, and writing and documenting for publication.

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Falinda Geerling


Completing the digitization of 60 oral history transcripts and audiotapes from the 1990s; participating in ongoing work writing summaries and collecting photographs

2010 - Present

Holding late March receptions and programs honoring Women's History Month

Acknowledging August 26th Equality Day through programming and on-the-street exhibits downtown

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Jo Ellyn Clarey

2011 - Present

Planning and overseeing women's history programming for History Detectives at the Grand Rapids Public Library. Every January this day-long event presents six programs arranged by area historical organizations

Developing a presence as serious exhibitors at conferences and other meetings.

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Falinda Geerling

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Jo Ellyn Clarey & Mary Seeger


Presenting a panel on Grand Rapids women's philanthropic history in Iowa City for the Women & Gender Historians of the Midwest conference


Presenting panel programs highlighting the important intersections of work by local and academic women's historians for Midwestern History Association annual conferences

Overseeing multi-year research and presentations on Woman’s Committee efforts of the Council of National Defense, a field that has been seriously neglected on all levels, the local, state, and national. Women's committees were organized in 1917 when the U.S. entered the Great War and was charged with organizing the nation’s women for the war effort.

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2017 - present

Melissa Fox


Overseeing the completion of an elective history of Grand Rapids women from 1887 to 1920 by a student intern.

Overseeing the integration of material from the early elective history into Her Hat Was in the Ring, a national crowdsourcing project.

Organizing work mentoring college students and recent graduates as interns and volunteers researching and writing about Grand Rapids women reformers during World War I


Offering a presentation in Detroit correcting erroneous Michigan suffrage history for the Historical Society of Michigan

Offering a presentation for the National Genealogical Society on building and using unusual archival resources to do women's history