TAKING CENTER STAGE: WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE IN GRAND RAPIDS

Setting the Stage

The women’s suffrage movement in the United States spanned over seven decades, from the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 to the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. This national story is well known, with influential groups and individuals like the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), founded by Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party (NWP) included in every complete account of the struggle for women’s voting rights.

But the national story is not the whole story. State and local organizations were as critical to winning the vote as the national organizations headquartered in Washington, D.C. and New York. Grand Rapids suffragists agitated for the vote as early as 1874 and, in partnership with suffragists around the state, continued fighting until 1918, when a state constitutional amendment finally granted suffrage to all Michigan women. Grand Rapids suffragists would take center stage in both the Michigan and national suffrage movements during this nearly half-century long effort.

Prepared in celebration of the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage in 2020, this digital history exhibit tells the rich history of women’s suffrage in Grand Rapids. It documents the three central stages of this local campaign and explores its stories in depth with historical vignettes from key moments of the decades-long struggle. And a timeline details the parallel and interconnected state and national movements, contextualizing the local suffrage movement with the national story.

Prepared in celebration of the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage in 2020, this digital history exhibit tells the rich history of women’s suffrage in Grand Rapids. It documents the three central stages of this local campaign and explores its stories in depth with historical vignettes from key moments of the decades-long struggle. And a timeline details the parallel and interconnected state and national movements, contextualizing the local suffrage movement with the national story.

Explore and remember the Grand Rapids women who gave so much for this fundamental civil right—the right to vote

Grand Rapids and the 1874 Campaign

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Luce's Hall, corner of Monroe and Justice, site of the first known Grand Rapids suffrage organization

In the months before Michigan’s 1874 women’s suffrage referendum, Grand Rapids buzzed with suffrage activity. Explore the roles Grand Rapids suffragists played in this first statewide attempt for equal voting rights.

Taking Center Stage: 1879-1907

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Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, Grand Rapids suffragists took on central roles in the state and national women’s suffrage movements. Explore dates from this critical period of local suffrage history that witnessed Grand Rapids's hosting of the 1899 National American Woman Suffrage Association convention and local suffragist Emily Burton Ketcham’s presidency of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association.

TEXT

L to R: October 19, 1898, Grand Rapids Herald, p. 11; Emily B. Ketcham, May 6, 1894, Grand Rapids Herald, p. 9; St. Cecilia, 1899 NAWSA Program

Organizing for the Vote: 1907-1920

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Suffrage activity had waned in Grand Rapids with the departure and subsequent death of Grand Rapids suffragist Emily Burton Ketcham. Founded in 1910, the Grand Rapids Equal Franchise Club revived the local suffrage effort. Explore the roles local suffragists played in the 1912, 1913, and 1918 statewide women's suffrage referendums.

Grand Rapids Equal Franchise Club float at the Homecoming Parade, Bentley Historical Library, 1910

Following the Local Suffrage Struggle: Historical Timelines

The 1874 Statewide Campaign

In the months before Michigan’s first women’s suffrage referendum, Grand Rapids buzzed with suffrage activity. Explore the roles Grand Rapids suffragists played in this statewide campaign for equal voting rights. LEARN MORE » 

Taking Center Stage: 1879-1907

Explore the period when Grand Rapids hosted the national suffrage convention and local suffragist Emily Burton Ketcham rose through the ranks of the state movement. LEARN MORE » 

Organizing for the Vote: 1907-1920

The Grand Rapids Equal Franchise Club, founded in 1910, revived the local suffrage effort. Explore the roles Grand Rapids suffragists played in the 1912, 1913, and 1918 statewide women’s suffrage referendums. LEARN MORE » 

The Local Movement in Focus: Stories from the Campaign

NAWSA Comes to Grand Rapids

The national suffrage movement convened in Grand Rapids in 1899. Explore the history behind this convention attended by Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and other national suffragists. LEARN MORE » 

A Resolution for Racial Equality

At the 1899 NAWSA convention in Grand Rapids, African-American suffragist Lottie Wilson Jackson fought for equality with a resolution protesting Jim Crow. Explore the history behind her fight. LEARN MORE » 

The Suffrage Edition

On May 2, 1914, suffragists took over the Grand Rapids Press to publish a suffrage-themed edition. Explore this remarkable event with excerpts from the actual suffrage edition. LEARN MORE » 

Timeline Sources

Click here to view sources for each timeline entry

Suffrage History Resources

Curated and written by Julia Bouwkamp with research and editorial assistance from GVSU interns Savannah Grodzicki and Emily Driscoll
“Taking Center Stage: Women’s Suffrage in Grand Rapids” was inspired by and owes a debt of gratitude to other great women’s suffrage history resources from the National Women’s History Museum, the Grand Rapids Public Library, and the Grand Rapids Public Museum