Greater Grand Rapids Womens History Council
  P O Box 68874  Grand Rapids  MI  49516-8874                    Phone: 616-574-7307


March 3, 2014
GGRWHC Board of Directors

Falinda Geerling,
Cindy Dorman,
 Vice President
Ruth VanStee,
Connie Ingham
Janet Brashler
Jo Ellyn Clarey
Susan Coombes
Gayle Davis
Sharon Hanks
Kyle Irwin
Mary Jane Keeler
Jef McClimans
Mary Seeger
Ruth Stevens
Jill Straub
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Celebrate Women's History Month with GGRWHC!



Women at the Bar: A Century of Women Attorneys in  

 Grand Rapids, 1870s to 1970s


In the 1960s and 1970s, a new wave of women attorneys began joining the bar in Grand Rapids, paving the way for many who followed.  Yet they were not the first female attorneys to practice law in Grand Rapids.  In the late 1870s, Elizabeth Eaglesfield, one of the early female graduates of the University of Michigan Law School, hung out her shingle and began advertising for clients.  She was followed by Ella Mae Backus, an attorney who became the backbone of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan, and others, such as Gale Saunders, who are largely unknown today.  Attorney and Grand Valley professor Ruth Stevens will trace the history of the first century of women attorneys in Grand Rapids, bringing to life the stories of these early women attorneys and linking them to the next wave of pioneers who helped shape the Grand Rapids legal community as it is today.



Local attorney Ruth Stevens will talk about a century of early female attorneys in Grand Rapids for Women's History Month. 


Ms. Stevens' program is co-sponsored by the

 Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council and the

Grand Rapids Historical Society 


Gerald R. Ford Museum, 303 Pearl Street NW

 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, 2014

Free and open to the public

Free parking

Reception following  



Rediscovering Merze Tate: A Treasure in Our Backyard



Celebrate Women's History Month with the Grand Rapids Study Club! On March 20 the GRSC will host a program on Merze Tate, born an African American girl in 1905 near Blanchard in rural Michigan. She graduated first in her class from Western Michigan University in 1927, earned a doctorate from Oxford University, worked for the State Department, and traveled around the world twice. Tate became a Howard University history professor and sometime U.S. diplomat, held patents, spoke five languages, wrote seven political books, and purchased a ticket for a flight into outer space--before leaving a legacy of millions of dollars to educational institutions.  


Merze Tate
Merze Tate (1905 - 1996) 


Merze Tate captured her world through the lens of her camera. Thus, long after her death in 1996, Kalamazoo journalist Sonya Bernard-Hollins will be able to show you Tate's world through her own eyes. The account of this unique African American woman's life will also illustrate the tenacity and courage necessary for her to defy the odds during the Jim Crow and pre-Civil Rights eras. At one point her own State Department labeled Tate "a public relations risk." Hear her story!


Kzoo journalist Sonya Bernard-Hollins will tell Merze Tate's story for Women's History Month. 

Searching for Merze Tate sent Bernard-Hollins on a fascinating journey of her own. Discoveries in the WMU archives have resulted in a traveling photo exhibit, a Kalamazoo youth travel club, and much travel for Bernard-Hollins herself as she spreads the word about this amazing woman whose story should never have been lost in the first place. On March 20, meet Merze Tate with the help of Bernard-Hollins. In the meantime, learn more about both women by visiting the following link:   MerzeTate 



 Noon, Thursday, March 20, 2014


Fair Housing Center of West Michigan

20 Hall Street SE (just east of Division)


Lunch is provided, and parking is available.

Please let us know you're coming at or


This program is co-sponsored by the  

Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council.



GGRWHC Membership Drive and Renewal 2014  


Earlier in February 2014, you may have received in your snail mail our annual membership letter.  This letter brought you important news about our activities and achievements to date and ways to either renew your membership or become a new member. It also brought you our brand new brochure. 

Note this year we have changed our membership and sponsorship options. As a sponsor, we are asking for your permission to use your name on our newly redesigned web site.


If you have yet to respond to our letter or go to our web site to renew or become a member, we look forward to hearing from you in March.  As Women's History Month, March is always a good time to remember and support the research that honors local, historical women. We thank you always for your present and past support of GGRWHC!


For a copy of our new brochure, click below.


HERE (Page 1) 


HERE (Page 2)




For March Historical Fun Facts and other programs and events for Women's History Month, visit our Homepage, 







Not a current member of GGRWHC? Membership is easy and helps offset the expenses associated with research and programming presented each year. Your membership helps to set the record straight on the women who've made history here in our community.

GGRWHC Board Meetings

Board meetings are held 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month at the Vanderveen Center for the Book at the Grand Rapids Public Library. If you have suggestions for programs, oral histories, or other items, please email us at or plan to attend a meeting.


 Share the Newsletter with Your Friends

Forward this newsletter! Friends can sign up to receive it by clicking the button in the left-hand margin. Help us spread the word about GGRWHC!
Please take a moment to forward this message to others you know who may be interested in Women's History.  If you've received this message as a forward, consider joining our mailing list (click on the button in the left column above!) in order to receive future updates about programming.

Thank you for your interest in preserving and celebrating the history of the many phenomonal women who've helped to shape West Michigan!  If you aren't already a member of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, consider showing your support through annual membership.  Visit our web site for more information and the ability to register using Pay Pal online!

Hats off to the historical women who've shaped West Michigan!