In 1907, upon the death of Grand Rapids native Emily Burton Ketcham, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Anna Howard Shaw, called her “the greatest worker that Michigan ever produced.” Newspapers around the country recounted the import of Ketcham’s life and work in extended tributes. The Woman’s Tribune of Portland, Oregon, said: “whether president or private, her fealty, her energy, her executive ability always made her the mainstay of her coadjutors.” Nevertheless, Ketcham became so thoroughly forgotten in Grand Rapids that even her local descendants knew little about her history.
By 1999, the centennial of the suffrage movement’s national convention in Grand Rapids, much had been rediscovered about Ketcham’s life; but the location of her burial site remained a mystery. Great-great-granddaughter Esther Ketcham Visser had found nothing about her illustrious ancestor by digging through records and cemetery receipts. Then, her mother Margaret remembered a colorful family story.
Margaret’s mother-in-law had become tired of living with Ketcham family urns on her mantelpiece; but the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression, and cemetery plots were expensive. As the story goes, she sneaked Emily’s and her husband Smith’s ashes into the casket of their son, Harry Burton Ketcham, when he died in 1937. On a beautiful August afternoon in 2001, we found Harry’s grave in Rosedale Memorial Park. His bronze marker does in fact list two other names: those of Emily and her affectionate helpmate and political support, Smith G. Ketcham.