Celebrations of the suffrage movement often focus on national leaders and on the colorful last decade before 1920. But the American women’s movement spanned seven decades and, as the GGRWHC digital suffrage exhibit points out, “the national story is not the whole story.” State and local organizations were as critical to winning the vote as the national organizations, but the countless women and men who populated them have mostly remained anonymous.
Our 2020 grave-decorating project, Here Lies a Suffragist, expands on the growing tradition of leaving “I Voted” stickers on suffragist gravestones after important elections. Please do make use of these Grand Rapids cemetery tours any time—but especially on the centennial date of the Nineteenth Amendment, Wednesday, August 26th, 2020!
In honor of the local citizens who worked to pass the voting rights amendment, the GGRWHC has selected a dozen suffragist graves in Fulton and Oakhill South cemeteries for recognition. And we tossed in a special tour for leader Emily Burton Ketcham at Rosedale Memorial Park. Read on for directions, but also learn more about the Grand Rapids movement and how its work intersected with statewide and national efforts on Taking Center Stage, our new digital suffrage exhibit!
Here’s the plan for 2020! First, read through our two decorate-a-suffragist-grave tour guides, and choose one woman (or more?!) to honor on Equality Day, August 26th. Then, make a graveside visit on the 26th, perhaps with flowers—even a single stem. We hope to have the sites marked with purple suffrage balloons; then, as a record of your visit, please take a photo — of the decorated gravesite certainly; but including you, if you are willing. Please post it in the comments section of our Facebook post honoring the day! (If you do not use Facebook, please send it to our email address– [email protected]) Last! If you choose to leave any flowers, we will see that the graves are cleaned up later. Thanks~
There are downsides to cemetery tours! Only certain individuals can be found in the Fulton Street and the Oakhill South cemeteries—and in 2020 we feature the women we found first. On these two tours, however, you will find a range of suffragists, from state leaders to workers who were more peripheral to the movement. But there is one major Grand Rapids suffragist you will not find anywhere. We cannot locate a gravesite for Eva McCall Hamilton at all! Find-a-Grave says she was cremated. Period.
Over time, we hope to build this page to include suffragists in cemeteries scattered across the city, as we have for the great, early leader, Emily Burton Ketcham, who is buried at Rosedale Memorial Park west of Standale. Still waiting is another African American woman, Ethel Beverly Burgess, who lies in Garfield Park. Cultural historianConstance Rouke (Woodlawn) and labor activist Viva Flaherty (Greenwood) were both in the 1899 Central High Junior Suffrage Club. Educator and suffragist Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss is in a mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park.
We could go much farther afield virtually! Early woman attorney and suffragist Elizabeth Eaglesfield is in Benton Harbor. Major suffragist Alde Louise Tuck Blake is buried in Maine. And African American dynamo Mary Roberts Tate is in New York.
There is also a downside to virtual cemetery tours! During an in-person tour we would discuss the varied ways in which cemeteries are gendered spaces and how the economic status of individuals is generally reflected. Single women occasionally don’t have a marker at all, even though we know where they are buried. And wealthier suffragists will sometimes, though not always, have more elaborate monuments that are situated toward the center of the parklike designs.