Meet the 2021 Board Nominees!

The Virtual Annual Meeting is coming up soon! Mark your calendars for Monday, May 10th from 5:30pm – 6pm. Make sure to get acquainted with this year’s board nominees before then! Read on to meet the 2021 nominees who will be voted on during this year’s annual meeting. 

A native of Seattle, Washington, Cynthia Browne was a transplant to Grand Rapids twenty years ago and has been fascinated by the women’s history of her chosen city. She is currently a circulation specialist in the library of the Grand Rapids Community College, where she has the unique ability to connect both non-traditional, older students and younger learners with resources and often to serve as their continuing mentor. Also at the GRCC, Browne has taken the lead in library initiatives, such as the Exam Cram food supply, student employee training, and a library food pantry. A lifelong-student, Browne graduated from Ferris State University in 2019 and is now interested to help the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council unearth and preserve the stories of little-known local women who have impacted our past and to bring them into the city’s present. Her special interest is in African American women’s history and the many roles they have played in the area.

Will Katerberg is currently the curator of Heritage Hall, archive of Calvin University, and is editor of its print and online magazine, Origins. A professor of history, Will is also the director of the Mellema Program in Western American Studies and is actively working on a book on nineteenth-century Massachusetts senator Henry L. Dawes and his daughter Anna Laurens Dawes, who were both influential in promoting reform movements and legislation regarding the acculturation of Native Americans to U.S. life and values. His rephotography projects—comparisons of past and contemporary photographs—explore Dutch American and local history sites in West Michigan and throughout the state. Generously, Will has already been contributing to GGRWHC board life for much of the pandemic year.


Gabe LaGrand is a graduating senior in history at Calvin University, with minors in philosophy and German. Throughout his time at Calvin, Gabe enjoyed multiple women- and gender-focused courses starting with Kristin DuMez’s Women and Gender in U.S. History. From former board member Kristin, he first learned about GGRWHC. Then, supervised by Kate van Liere and Jo Ellyn Clarey, he began work in early 2020 as an intern on the Women Who Ran project and began learning more about the group. While Gabe was disappointed that his microfilm scrolling in GRPL’s archive and his official internship were cut short due to the pandemic, he has already begun continuing work on the electoral history project, which will continue during his time on the board. But he is also excited to engage with the organization’s other projects and pursuits. Bottom line, this Grand Rapids native is curious to learn more about his hometown and contribute to its history.

Sue Thoms is a writer and storyteller who has enjoyed over thirty years in journalism. In 2014, while writing for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive, she was captured by the story of the Grand Rapids women scientists who created the whooping cough vaccine and saved the lives of countless children. Thoms wrote a feature article pointing a spotlight at the groundbreaking work of these extraordinary women, which was in turn placed on the front page above the fold by the first female editor of the Press and our board member, Julie Hoogland. Together, they have kept up their work on Kendrick, Eldering, and Gordon, starting with a GGRWHC annual reception; then a GRPL exhibit; a Community Legends sculpture unveiling; and, most recently, a presentation for the Historical Society of Michigan. Thoms currently writes medical features for Spectrum Health Beat, the news site for Spectrum Health. She is especially captivated by stories that involve medicine and children and is the author of six children’s books, including The Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan.

Remembering Joan Luedders Wolfe on Earth Day

On this 51st Earth Day we are remembering and celebrating the life and work of environmentalist Joan Luedders Wolfe who founded West Michigan Environmental Action Council in 1968 and was the first woman appointed to the Natural Resources Commission in 1973. Her work with WMEAC still impacts conservation efforts in Michigan today. Legislature such as the 1972 Inland Lakes and Streams Act, which continues to protect Michigan’s inland waterways from development and contamination and was made possible through the hard work of WMEAC under Wolfe’s leadership. Wolfe passed away on January 23, 2021, but leaves behind a legacy of trailblazing environmentalism. Learn more about her life and work in this recent WMEAC article.

March with us into Women’s History Month 2021!

Find full information on our March calendar about great virtual programming starting with the Kutsche Office kickoff opening the month to its ending at a celebratory program honoring our new web page Women Who Ran.

Be sure to catch the GGRWHC’s three main offerings—first, on March 24th, when Katelyn VerMerris takes a singular look at the paid labor and volunteer contributions of Grand Rapids women on the home front during World War I.

Women working the welding machine at the American Seating Company. Grand Rapids Herald, August 8, 1918.

On March 26th, celebrate the launch of Women Who Ran! A Grand Rapids Women’s Electoral History with a close look at a decade of upheaval, the 1910s. Grand Rapids women ran for public office in increasing numbers during this heady decade when they could leap onto any public stage they liked, even those of the Michigan State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives!

“Women Voters: Five Women Are Candidates for State Offices.” Bay City Times, April 5, 1919.

Finally, on March 31st, join us for a fuller look at Grand Rapids women seeking Public office before the Nineteenth Amendment — and see how we can search 47 different women running 82 campaigns between 1887 and 1920 alphabetically, chronologically, by political office, occupation, marital status, reform activity, and party affiliation. Meet the local women running for City Comptroller and State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1919 alone–and celebrate our new web page, Women Who Ran!

March Community Cup with Outside Coffee Co!

We are excited to announce that for the month of March the Outside Coffee Co is partnering with the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council as a part of their Community Cup Program!

The March Community Cup is the hazelnut Latte and 100% of its profits will be donated by the Outside Coffee Co to GGRWHC.

If you are interested in trying the March Community Cup latte you can find the Outside Coffee Co at the following address:

Outside Coffee Co
734 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Hours: Monday – Sunday, 7am – 7pm

Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month with great coffee!

A New Year with Unfinished Business

In the wake of 2020, the GGRWHC celebrates the new year for its possibilities. Beginning with our first board meeting of 2021, we will take an entirely appropriate backward glance and rededicate ourselves to remembering and acting on the lessons of the past year.

Anti-Racism Statement of the Board of Directors of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council:  Several tragedies throughout 2020 clearly exposed the effects of systemic racism in American society. Minorities have endured disproportionately the unequal effects of COVID-19, unemployment, poverty, and incidents of police brutality and injustice. This is especially true for African American communities. We recognize that the Black Lives Matter movement has led the way in bringing attention to these inequities, and we stand with them.

We, the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council (GGRWHC), condemn the killing of George Floyd, and we mourn the many other lives that have been lost as a result of individual and systemic racism. We support and stand with Black Lives Matter and the protest of those who demonstrate to call out systemic racism and unjust practices in our communities. We denounce white supremacy and all forms of racism, discrimination and injustice.

GGRWHC commits to enabling diversity and equity, and we welcome people of all backgrounds who want to share the impact of women in our history. We will recruit and support people of color on our board. We will continue to research and share the stories of people of color in our community. We commit to continuous learning to advance our knowledge of personal biases while also learning ways to build anti-racist systems.

Initiating Women’s History Wednesdays!

Although GGRWHC’s programming to honor the 19th Amendment centennial has been interrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, we invite you to stick with us virtually into the foreseeable future. During the rest of 2020, we will not forget the centennial celebration; but we will widen our focus. Please stay tuned about August 26th’s HER VOICE HER VOTE! But, likely, we will persist with centennial celebration past the end of this year–when we sincerely hope to see you again in person!

For now, watch for Women’s History Wednesdays via our electronic newsletter (sign up here) and follow us on Facebook. We will offer a panoply of women’s history in bite-size pieces as well as fuller offerings in our monthly features in Women’s Lifestyle Magazine as well as in our hard-copy newsletter! Make sure our newsletter lands in your mailbox – click here to become a supporting member of GGRWHC!

Here’s a taste of Women’s History Wednesdays, which hit inboxes yesterday.

Union Benevolent Association Training School for Nurses

GGRWHC salutes health workers during our current crisis and gives a nod to the shoulders they stand on, the pioneering women of the past who took the lead in organizing institutions to care for the sick, the elderly, and the orphaned. Balancing benevolence and business sense, they undertook the development of local hospitals and nursing schools, here represented by the first graduating class in 1888 of the Union Benevolent Association Training School for Nurses. The UBA turned into Blodgett Hospital. Hats off!


From Managerial Void to the Medical Mile:  The Evolving Roles of Women and the Enduring Presence of History 

Join us on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 7:00pm at the Grand Rapids Public Library where Julia Bouwkamp will present From Managerial Void to the Medical Mile: The Evolving Roles of Women and the Enduring Presence of History. 

Known for its thriving medical institutions, Grand Rapids today soars above its past, having forgotten whole chapters of an early medical history where government played virtually no role in providing civil services. Early “managerial voids” were commonly filled by the efforts of voluntary associations–associations most often led by women.

On October 10th,  Bouwkamp will unfold the history of Grand Rapids medical institutions growing out of the efforts of hard-working, charitable nineteenth-century women. Early women citizens are rarely heralded as community builders, and Bouwkamp will reveal a story often obscured by sentimentalized assumptions that women were not seriously involved in “public” works, even in the organization of institutions that cared for the sick, the elderly, and orphaned children.

In fact, these early citizens impacted our community to a remarkable degree. Fleshing out the specific history of women founders of early Grand Rapids medical institutions, Bouwkamp will reveal a pattern where they were pushed from the centers of organizations they had created into the more feminine realm of nursing–where once again their hard work and creativity revolutionized a struggling profession by “raising standards and giving scientific value to the business of being a woman.”

Balancing benevolence and business sense, they understood that the “intelligent saints” in the caring professions should be honored for their skills and with a living wage.

The national impact of one Grand Rapids reformer:  Minnie Cumnock Blodgett

Upon U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, a nursing shortage loomed. A prominent local advocate of health public reform, Minnie Cumnock Blodgett, proposed an intensive training camp at her alma mater Vassar College, where the theoretical education of nurses could be undertaken outside a hospital setting. Bouwkamp will elaborate the long-term national effect of this successful experiment from the summer of 1918 on the nation’s nursing education and the betterment of the nursing profession.


Julia Bouwkamp

Julia Bouwkamp has put her degree in history from Calvin College to work ever since her graduation in 2015. She has worked as a historical interpreter at Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, for AmeriCorps VISTA in historic preservation, and as a researcher, speaker, and archivist with the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council and Froebel USA. Besides having recently finished curating a digital exhibit on women’s suffrage for the GGRWHC, she has published entries on local historical women in Women’s Lifestyle Magazine and a substantive article on Dutch women during World War I in Origins, Calvin College’s historical magazine. Bouwkamp is currently applying to graduate programs in material culture and public history. 


During 2019 the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council celebrated over thirty years of recruiting and training researchers, encouraging donations to local archives, distributing bibliographies on area women’s history, digitizing materials for broader dissemination, and developing creative programming to spread information about the early accomplishments of female scientists, politicians, journalists, even reformed courtesans. Six years ago at a quarter century, it took stock and published a brief summary history, which you can find on its website:

In January 2020 the GGRWHC will launch a year’s celebration of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, culminating on August 26th at St. Cecilia Society, the site in 1899 of the only meeting in Michigan of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Co-sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the Grand Rapids Historical Society, and the Grand Rapids Public Library

Learn About Grand Rapids Architect Marion Blood and Other Women Architects at Ottawa Hills Tour on October 5!

Grand Rapids architect and engineer, Marion Frances Blood, had an extraordinary talent that was spotted early by her mentor Architect Kenneth Welch who was Grand Rapids first official City Planner. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1924, Blood won the coveted UM Booth Graduate Prize in Architecture and traveled in Europe for eight months. When she returned to Grand Rapids, she began designing homes for popular architect Alexander McColl, a career that lasted until 1939. By 1942 Marion Blood was working as an Engineering draftswoman, designing defense guns and tools, and much later she was drafting plans for the American Bridge Company including Michigan’s own Mackinac Bridge.

Learn more about Marion Blood and other Grand Rapids women architects working from 1920 through the 1970’s on Saturday, October 5 at 1 pm at the Klise Chapel at East Congregational church. GGRWHC is excited to partner with architectural historian Pamela VanderPloeg for this presentation and walking tour of 1920s women-designed homes in the Ottawa Hills and the adjacent East Grand Rapids neighborhood. Registration is required for this free event. Click here to register today!



GGRWHC Reception & the 2019 Candidates for the Board of Directors

Join us on Wednesday, March 27 at 5pm for our Reception & Annual meeting! Enjoy a glass of wine, light appetizers, and catching up with friends! Then, settle in to hear our year-in-review, elect new directors (read more about each of them below), and learn about and celebrate the work behind the now-digitized Kent County collection of WWI Council of National Defense women’s registration cards. Let us know you plan to come! Click here to RSVP! 

Here are 2019 Slate of Candidates for the Board of Directors:


Susan Coombes

Grand Rapids native Susan Johnson Coombes majored in Communications at Michigan State University before working in local radio and moving abroad to spend time in Europe, Africa and Asia. While resident in Nigeria, she was a member, then president, of the International Women’s Association. During two years in the Netherlands, she worked as an information specialist on the Eastern Scheld Works (a storm surge barrier on an artificial island); and her fourteen years in Asia were divided between Singapore and Hong Kong, where she worked in the international public relations/communications industry. Back in the US, Coombes lived for thirteen years near Seattle and served two terms as an Arts Commissioner for the of City of Issaquah. Currently, she is retail manager for the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Coombes was first elected to the GGRWHS board in 2013 and served for four years in communications and special projects.


Jayson Otto

Jayson Otto is a professor of anthropology and food studies at Aquinas College and Grand Valley State University. He became active in local history with the Neighborhood Improvement Committee of the Midtown Neighborhood Association and while managing the Fulton Street Farmers Markets for three seasons between 2005 and 2007. His research continued during graduate work on Ecological Food and Farming Systems at Michigan State University. There, Otto dug deeper into the origins of the Fulton Street Farmers Market, and he uncovered the prominent roles played by Progressive Era women in Grand Rapids food politics. Jayson has represented the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council with programming in women’s history, farmers markets, and urban farming at the national Agricultural History Society, the Midwestern History Association, GVSU’s Great Lakes History Conference, GRPL’s History Detectives and at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Some of his research on Grand Rapids women, farmers markets, and school gardens can be read in a chapter of the book Cities of Farmers: Problems, Possibilities, and Processes of Producing Food in Cities from the University of Iowa Press. Jayson hopes to extend his research on the civic work of Progressive Era women around food production to other cities and towns across the state.


Kelly Otto

Kelly Otto is a genealogical researcher who, between 2001 and 2015, was employed as  executive director of Grand Rapids’s Midtown Neighborhood Association. During her fourteen years working alongside neighbors and local businesses promoting community engagement, she emphasized their investment in the neighborhood’s local history. She advocated for the creation of two historic preservation study groups to investigate the potential designation of historic districts within the Ashby Row and Brikyaat areas of Midtown. With for-profit and non-profit stakeholders she worked to ensure a historically sensitive renovation of Houseman Field. To  encourage Midtown residents to investigate their own “house histories,” she took residents to the Grand Rapids Public Library and Grand Rapids City Archive to teach them how to utilize resources available there. We endorse Otto’s belief in “building connections between the past to better understand the present and how we arrived here.”

History Detectives 2019: All History! All Day!

Join us on Saturday, January 19 from 9:30am – 4:00pm for History Detectives!

GGRWHC is proud to sponsor Sophia Ward Brewer’s presentation:

Undercurrent: African American Women in Turn-of-the-20th-Century Grand Rapids

Still an undercurrent in accounts of reform movements coming out of the nineteenth century, the cultural and political contributions of African American women have received little attention. Sophia Brewer will bringing this story home by recounting how a small community of African American women in Grand Rapids made their mark on local history. Introducing these local movers and shakers, she will uncover who they were, reveal where they came from, and describe how they impacted their period’s fight for civil and women’s rights. Just beneath the surface, these African American Grand Rapidians made local waves that swelled into national consequence.
Come for Sophia’s presentation at 10:30am, or stay for the whole day of local history programming featuring:

9:30am – Lawrence C. Earle Is Grand Rapids’ First Artist
Don Bryant – Sponsored by the Western Michigan Genealogical Society
For over five decades Grand Rapids’ first artist dedicated his fascinating life to art and to motivating others.

10:30am – Undercurrent: African American Women in Turn-of-the-20th-Century Grand Rapids
Sophia Ward Brewer – Sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
How a small community of African American women in Grand Rapids made waves in history, waves that swelled into national consequence.

11:30am – What Did They Know and When Did They Know It? Grand Rapidians and the Holocaust
Rob Franciosi – Sponsored by Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University & Grand
Rapids Public Library
Contrary to popular myth, average Americans including Grand Rapidians read a lot of Holocaust history reported in their daily papers as it was happening.

1:00pm – Hot Spots in a Cool City: Evening Entertainment in Grand Rapids, 1940-1970
M. Christine Byron – Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Commission
In the mid-twentieth century Grand Rapids already offered a “cool” range of evening entertainment at cocktail lounges, music venues, dining-and-dancing spots, and movie theaters.

2:00pm – Fresh Air, Thrift, Exercise and Innocent Delight: School Gardening Programs in Progressive Era Grand Rapids
Jayson Otto – Sponsored by the Grand Rapids City Archives
In the early 20th century, Grand Rapids became a model for school gardening programs when every grade school had its own.

3:00pm – WWII: When Patriotism Was the Norm
Sandra Warren – Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society and the Grand Rapids Public Museum
How Grand Rapids South High students bought a B-17 Bomber to aid the war effort during World War II.

For more information about the day, including reserving a boxed lunch, visit