SPECIAL NOTE FOR 2021, WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY ON AUGUST 26th:
This year to celebrate the day, we will mark four gravesites with purple balloons to help you locate the four women we are featuring. 1) Please click on our new page this year for Garfield Park Cemetery to locate the gravesites of two more African American activists. Lillian Gill worked after the successful suffrage movement, but would have supported it. And the club life and public activism of Ethel Beverly Burgess suggests that she was a supporter. Meet them on the page. 2) Then, please use the link to Fulton Street Cemetery for a map and descriptions of the Comstock sisters, numbers four and five, Russell and Boltwood. WZZM’s 13 ON YOUR SIDE will run a short feature on them at 11:00 pm Wednesday, August 25th, throughout the day on the 26th, we will also post the link here and on Facebook and Instagram.
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.
In honor of the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, our 2020 grave-decorating project, Here Lies a Suffragist, expanded 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, every August 26th, now Women’s Equality Day!
In honor of the local citizens who worked to pass the voting rights amendment, the GGRWHC initially located a dozen suffragist graves in Fulton and Oakhill South cemeteries for recognition. We tossed in a special tour for leader Emily Burton Ketcham at Rosedale Memorial Park; and now we have added Garfield Park Cemetery to feature two more African American women activists. 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!
Please follow the plan we used in 2020, noting that we are marking with purple balloons only four graves in 2021~
After reading through our two decorate-a-suffragist-grave tour guides, please 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, and record your visit, by taking a photo — of the decorated gravesite certainly; but including you, if you are willing. Then 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. Please meet some suffragists and activists for women!
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. For example, cultural historianConstance Rouke (Woodlawn) and labor activist Viva Flaherty (Greenwood) who were both members of the 1899 Central High Junior Suffrage Club. Educator and suffragist Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss is in a mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park. And 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. We hope to visit them all with you in person again in the near future!