With the recent release of the film “Suffragette,” Rebecca Calkins at The Awesome Mitten was inspired to find out a little bit more about the Michigan women whom made their mark on the world. We sent her to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing. Emily Fijol, the center’s executive director, gave her a wonderful tour and pointed out some influential women. Here are a few of her favorites:
Ella Merriman Sharp (1857 – 1912)
Areas of Achievement: Environment, Philanthropy
Ella Sharp, from my hometown of Jackson willed her home and farm to the city of Jackson to serve as a park and museum. The Ella Sharp Museum is an accredited museum of art and history that just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Sharp was very involved with Jackson civic groups, but her true passion was the environment and she traveled the country speaking on the subject. She was the only woman invited to address the all-male Michigan Forestry Association at their annual meeting in 1909.
Harriet Quimby (1875 – 1912)
Area of Achievement: Aviation
Born in Manistee County, Harriet Quimby left her mark on aviation history as both the first American woman to become a licensed pilot and the first woman to cross the English Channel. It was a cloudy day and Quimby was in a borrowed plane she’d never flown before the day she crossed the English Channel. The only instrument she had was a compass that she learned how to use that same day. She managed the flight and landed in France safely. However, her moment of fame was overshadowed because the Titanic sank the day before and managed to dominate the news cycle.
Laura Smith Haviland (1808 – 1897)
Area of Achievement: Abolition
Laura Smith Haviland’s Quaker upbringing, with its views on educating women and opposing slavery, shaped her views. Haviland, who moved to Lenawee County after getting married, had eight children. In 1832, she organized the first women’s anti-slavery group in Michigan. Her home was one of the first stops in Michigan along the Underground Railroad. She was so successful at escorting slaves to Canada that there was a $3,000 bounty on her head. She advocated for better prison conditions for soldiers during the Civil War. Haviland also founded a school for indigent children called the Raisin Institute and was also involved in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.
Eva McCall Hamilton (1871 – 1948)
Area of Achievement: Government
Hamilton was the first woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature and was a leader of the Grand Rapids women’s suffrage movement. She mailed out a countless pieces of literature that dealt with women’s suffrage and formed the Michigan chapter of the League of Women Voters. In the Senate, Hamilton served on four committees and chaired a fifth. Her successful bills included pay raises for teachers as well as public funding to support keeping underprivileged children in their homes rather than in institutions.
Lucia Voorhees Grimes (1877 – 1978)
Area of Achievement: Suffrage
Lucia Grimes created a card index filing system to record the every Michigan legislator’s attitude toward suffrage for women. This was so successful that noted women’s rights activist Alice Paul invited her to Washington D.C. to institute a similar system for U.S. Congressional members. With her five-year-old daughter in tow, Grimes left for the nation’s capital where, in only five weeks, she installed her card-file system, also known as “the pressure system,” for all of U.S. Congress. She was no stranger to being a working mother as she had already worked as vice president and purchasing agent at her husband’s manufacturing company in Detroit.
Clara B. Arthur (1858 – 1929)
Areas of Achievement: Children’s Rights, Suffrage
Arthur worked together with Grimes to get women’s suffrage on the Michigan ballot for the first time in 1912. With six months to prepare , they mounted a fierce letter writing campaign and completed a monster of a petition with 108,000 signatures. Initially it was reported the ballot measure passed by a large margin, which would have made Michigan the first state east of the Mississippi with women’s suffrage. However, a recount involving shady dealings and possible ballot burnings yielded a defeat by only 760 votes. The vote was finally won in 1918 just prior to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Grace Lee Boggs (1915 – 2015)
Areas of Achievement: Civil Rights, Community Service
Boggs was a civil rights leader in Detroit who recently passed away. She was born to Chinese immigrants in 1915 and educated at Barnard and Bryn Mawr colleges. She participated in the 1941 march on Washington D.C. to push for desegregation of the U.S. armed forces and was inspired to move to Detroit and become involved in the black movement where she met her husband James Boggs. They worked together for 40 years in the Black Power movement and established Detroit Summer, a multicultural youth program. President Barack Obama released a statement at her passing saying, “Grace’s passion for helping others and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life and will continue to inspire generations to come.”
Cora Reynolds Anderson (1882 – 1950)
Area of Achievement: Politics
Cora Reynolds Anderson was the first woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives and the only Native American woman to serve as a representative. She is also the only woman to have a state building named after her, the Anderson House Office Building. Of Ojibwe descent, she was a teacher in the Upper Peninsula at a time when little opportunities were available to minorities. She was particularly interested in public health issues, especially the fight against alcoholism and tuberculosis.
Merze Tate – (1905 – 1996)
Area of Achievement: Education
A professor, scholar and expert on United States diplomacy, Tate was the first African-American to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Western State Teachers College, now Western Michigan University., she received a scholarship to attend University of Oxford In 1931 and became the first African-American to be earn a bachelor’s degree in literature from the university. Her dissertation at Oxford was on the study of the limitation of armaments and was widely used by the U. S. State Department. She was also the first African-American female to earn a doctorate in political science from Harvard University. She was a college professor, journalist, a guest at annual White House meetings and international traveler, meeting with international leaders . There are still files with the U.S. State Department that remain classified, spurring rumors she was also a spy.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 by Gladys Beckwith Each year they induct about 10 women to the hall of fame, which now consists of over 275 influential and historically important women. Plan your own visit and be inspired by some great Michigan women.
About the Author: I am the Public Relations and Technology Manager for Experience Jackson. I manage the social media on Facebook /ExperienceJackson and Twitter @ExperienceJxn as well as a monthly eNewsletter. I grew up in Jackson and returned after attending college at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. When not working, I enjoy cooking and traveling, always looking for the next culinary or cultural adventure.