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 https://www.grpl.org/historydetectives/

GGRWHC Fall 2018 Slate of Candidates for the Board of Directors

On Thursday, November 8 at 6:15pm in the Vander Veen Center at the Main Library (before Janet Sheeres’s program at 7:00 pm), the Board of Directors of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council asks that dues-paying members meet to conduct the agreeable business of electing new directors.

Here are 2018 Slate of Candidates for the Board of Directors:


A Master of Library and Information Science from Wayne State University,Sophia Ward Brewer began as a page at the Grand Rapids Public Library in 1991 and by 2014 had become Head of Programming. Her career trajectory at GRPL now includes its Board of Library Commissioners, for which she ran in 2016 and on which she still serves, securing her place in our elective history of women in Grand Rapids! Currently, Sophia is the Collections Development Librarian at Grand Rapids Community College, where she also teaches information literacy and works on MI-ACE, Campus Climate, and Equality and Inclusion. She is researching the early history of African American women in Grand Rapids and for GGRWHC will present in January at History Detectives.



Since graduation from Aquinas College in 2015, Matthew Ellis has been Assistant Archivist for the City of Grand Rapids, where he does conservation work and document repair when he is not indexing municipal records and retrieving materials for researchers and city departments. He has also organized archival materials for Mary Free Bed, created a finding aid for their use, and helped plan a wall of history for display at the hospital. Outside work duties, Matt has exercised his planning and promotional skills by volunteering for the Event Committee of the Eastown Community Association and developing programming for History Detectives, a consortium of local historical groups. Also as a Trustee of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, Matt will become an important local history liaison.



Libby VanderPloeg is a Michigan-based artist and illustrator willing to jazz up our image! Clients for Libby’s mixed-media paintings, animations, and digital illustrations range from The New Yorker toKazoo Magazine , and from Netflix and Penguin Books to Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Since finishing her BFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Libby has worked to “inspire young women to be smart, dream big, and pursue their goals.” Click here for her “Lift Each Other Up” animation, which went viral on social media on International Women’s Day in 2016:https://www.libbyvanderploeg.com/lifteachotherup/ . GGRWHC is eager for Libby to practice her penchant for highlighting strong female figures in historical contexts using Grand Rapids subject matter.
Photo Credit: Leigh Ann Cobb



Katelyn Bosch VerMerris steeped herself in local history during undergraduate work at Calvin College, when she interned with the Lowell Area Historical Museum and Fallasburg Historical Society. Then she met the GGRWHC during her study for a master’s degree in Public History at West Virginia University, where she focused her thesis research on the home front work of Grand Rapids women during World War I, supplementing GGRWHC projects in this area. Katelyn will also coordinate with us to develop the website presentation of this important work. Building on her undergraduate study of history and strategic communications at Calvin College, Katelyn has been undertaking projects with historical museums in Saugatuck-Douglas and Holland.


CHANGE of Program for November 8th!

Our program by Tom Dilley planned for Thursday, November 8th, will be rescheduled on a future date!
But! Keep November 8 at 7pm at the Main Library on your calendar and join us for Janet Sheeres’s serious-yet-light-hearted presentation on one set of unheralded women community builders: clergy wives. Based on her book For Better, For Worse, the stories of the wives of the first Dutch pastors in West Michigan will offer a fresh glimpse of early Grand Rapids history.
For Better, For Worse is Sheeres’s fourth book. She has also published 70 articles in national and international journals on Dutch emigration/immigration history and is the editor of Origins , the historical magazine of Calvin College’s Heritage Hall Archives.
After her program Sheeres’s book will be available for sale as will a 2018 special issue of Origins magazine focusing on women’s history!

GGRWHC at the Midwestern History Association Conference

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Fourth Annual Midwestern History Conference
Sponsored by the Midwestern History Association and
the Hauenstein Center at Grand Valley State University

For the fourth consecutive year the MHA will meet in Grand Rapids, giving locals the opportunity to stay on the cutting edge of the reviving field of Midwestern studies. This assemblage of scholars—including those from the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council—is dedicated to re-energizing study of the role of the Midwest in American history. Attend all or just part of the day-long offerings—but don’t miss the GGRWHC’s presentation at 7:00 pm! Scroll down for more and stay tuned at www.ggrwhc.org!

Courtesy of GVSU’s Hauenstein Center, admission will be open to the public and free, including a complimentary lunch—if you RSVP! Also find the day’s complete schedule on the following: https://www.gvsu.edu/hc/module-events-view.htm?siteModuleId=2C5125A7-B7A9-5FEB-4D1655B86DF0EF04&eventId=20AB1F05-9F9A-DB93-67F2E838268D976A

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The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
at the MHA Conference
GVSU DeVos Campus Downtown
Wednesday, June 6th, 7:00 pm

When in 1917 the American wartime government established the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense, 17,000 local organizations sprang up immediately. Invited in because of military needs, the nation’s women citizens made contributions ranging far beyond specific war needs and their traditional gender roles.

Midwestern Women and the Children’s Programs of the WWI Council of National Defense will be the second in GGRWHC’s three-year project illustrating the little-credited but incredibly important American women’s initiatives to create a home defense by guaranteeing healthy food sources, raising healthy children, and ensuring the health of women in the industrial work force. This year’s focus will be on how women’s programs benefited children, ensuring the future health of the nation in the wake of a public health disaster. When one third of American male draftees failed their physicals, the better care of American children became an important aspect of an ongoing home defense. Integrating local histories into the national story, Melissa Fox, Jayson Otto, and Sue Caldwell will report on a variety of 1918 “Children’s Year” initiatives in urban Grand Rapids, Michigan, and rural Jasper County, Indiana.

Riding the Rails on the Children’s Special: Weighing and Measuring Babies along Michigan’s Interurban Lines, Melissa Fox, Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council

Children’s Recreation as a Defense Measure: The Case of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jayson Otto, Aquinas College

Schooling for War in Rural WWI Jasper County, Indiana, Sue Caldwell, Director-At-Large of the Indiana Genealogical Society & Jasper County Genealogist for the IGS

Who Was a “Single” Woman? Complicating the Concept!

The GGRWHC Annual Reception, Thursday, March 15, 5:00 – 7:00pm

John F. Donnelly Conference Center at Aquinas College

Join us for wine and hors d’oeuvres at our annual reception as we step off ideas discussed by author Rebecca Traister in All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. (See p. 9 on her visit to Grand Rapids on March 13.)

GGRWHC will open up the conversation by complicating the relationship between singledom and progress for women. To Traister’s examples we will add vivid anecdotes about Grand Rapids’s own “single ladies”—single for so many different reasons. After local researchers present cameo portraits of women who, on the one hand, could be considered quintessentially “single,” they will also ask exactly what “single” means in terms of personal histories, various kinds of support networks, age, race, divorce, and widowhood.

Included will be a WWII Red Cross volunteer/second-wave feminist activist, a businesswoman/suffragist/politician, a renowned cultural historian, an educator/suffragist/club woman, a world-class botanist/real estate tycoon, and a little-known nineteenth-century African American women’s club, both staid and radical!

Honoring this sampling of women we will also honor our researchers who have brought them back into the light–and lift a glass to some favorite married ladies for their contributions to social reform and massive change in Grand Rapids’s history. One will be a GGRWHC founder, Jane Hibbard Idema, also namesake of our host Aquinas College’s Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s Studies Center.

Finally, State Representative Winnie Brinks will be on hand with a proclamation congratulating us on our 30th anniversary for the work we have done since 1988 uncovering, then covering, the history of local women!

We hope you will join us for this fun, annual event! Please RSVP via email at [email protected] or by phone at 616-574-7307

11th Annual History Detectives, January 20

History Detectives is a week away! Time to take a look at the programs and plan your day.  Starting at 9:30am, the morning set includes a history of Madison Square Church and the surrounding business district, a historical charting of Grand Rapids women’s runs for public office beginning in 1887 (at 10:30am), and a survey of historical markers (at 11:30am).  Following the lunch break, the afternoon set leads with African Americans in Early Grand Rapids (at 1:00pm), a look at the Voigt family clothing dating from the 1890s through the 1970s (at 2:00pm), and an early history of the Creston neighborhood (at 3:00pm).  There is a little something for everyone – come for one program, or stay all day! View the full brochure here.

Save the Date: History Detectives 2018

History Detectives 2018 / January 20 9:30am-4pm / Ryerson Auditorium at the Grand Rapids Public Library

Planned and co-sponsored by local historical and cultural organizations, including the Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids Historical Commission, Grand Rapids Historical Society, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids City Archives, and the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, History Detectives is a day-long event made up of six programs exploring various aspects of Grand Rapids History. Presented by area historians, topics are varied and reflect the unique heritage of West Michigan. For details about individual programs see the History Detectives webpage.