About Grace Ames Van Hoesen (1870–1959)
December 14, 1918, Grace Van Hoesen, Woman Citizen
On April 6, 1915, Grace Ames Van Hoesen ran an unsuccesful campaign for the Grand Rapids Board of Education. But she did not give up. When she threw her hat in the ring for the school board in 1919, she lost again. Years later, in 1923, Van Hoesen set her sights on another elected office, the Grand Rapids City Commission. Although she lost this election, too, she remained convinced of her fitness for local politics. And her patience was rewarded. In 1930, she was elected to the Kent County Commission, an office she would occupy until 1938.
Grace Van Hoesen was born on January 11, 1870, in Leighton, Michigan. She came into prominence in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as the first “business woman” to enter politics, when she made her first school board run in 1915. But she was qualified to enter school politics based on more than her twenty-three years in business as a bookkeeper for Morris & Co. She was interested in the business of schools, having taken courses at the University of Chicago in industrial education and juvenile delinquency.
September 9, 1924, Grace Van Hoesen (second from the left) with members of the Grand Rapids League of Women Voters, Grand Rapids Public Library
But Van Hoesen was passionate about more than education. An ardent suffragist, she played a pivotal role in the victorious 1918 Michigan campaign for women’s suffrage as president of the Grand Rapids Equal Franchise Club. Her published account of that campaign appeared in the November 30, 1918, issue of The Woman Citizen under the title, “Michigan’s Incontrovertible Majority: Why Grand Rapids Was Won.” Van Hoesen’s efforts were so vital to the movement that she was honored at the 1920 victory convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Chicago, out of which the National League of Women Voters was founded.
Not one to rest after a victory, Van Hoesen dedicated herself to educating Michigan women on the value and responsibility that came with their newly won voting rights. Lecturing before the Woman’s Association of Commerce, Van Hoesen urged women to “become regular voters, not merely voters when some question in which you are particularly interested comes up.” Her steadfast efforts won her influence at the Michigan League of Women Voters (founded in 1919), where she was elected vice president in 1920. And she has also been credited as one of the “moving spirits” behind the organization of the city of Grand Rapids League of Women Voters in 1921.
1936, Grace Van Hoesen pictured with members of the Kent County Commission
The 1918 Michigan suffrage campaign coincided with America’s involvement in World War I. And Grace Van Hoesen, like many of her sister suffragists, contributed to the war effort. She chaired the Woman in Industry Committee of the Grand Rapids Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. After the war, Van Hoesen dedicated herself to international peace efforts and labor reform. She led a local movement for peace in 1921 on behalf of the Michigan branch of World Disarmament. Later in 1921, she attended the International Congress of Women Workers in Geneva, Switzerland as an unofficial delegate for the United States National League of Women Voters.
With her experience as a businesswoman and her years of service on behalf of the homefront, women’s suffrage, labor, and peace movements, Grace Ames Van Hoesen was more than qualified to run for the Kent County Commission in 1930. Unlike in previous elections, when all her efforts were met with defeat, Van Hoesen won the election and became the first woman to run for the Kent County Commission and the first woman to win. She was reelected in 1934, serving on the commission during the worst years of the Great Depression until 1938.