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



January 31, 2016

GGRWHC Board of Directors

Mary Seeger,
Jo Ellyn Clarey,    
Susan Coombes
    Vice President 
Ruth VanStee,
Connie Ingham
Jennifer Bryant 
Jo Ellyn Clarey
Susan Coombes
Falinda Geerling 
Sharon Hanks
Connie Ingham 
Kyle Irwin
Mary Seeger
Ruth Stevens
Julie Tabberer
Ruth VanStee 
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Community Builders:
Early African American Women in Grand Rapids
  by Yvonne Sims & Jo Ellyn Clarey
Co-sponsored by the Grand Rapids Study Club,
the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council
& the Grand Rapids Historical Society
7 p.m., Thursday, February 11, 2016   
John F. Donnelly Conference Center at Aquinas College
157 Woodward Lane SE
(click on Donnelly Conference Center for campus map)
In the late 19th century African Americans in Grand Rapids were organizing societies--literary, charitable, and fraternal.  As early as 1889, the local African Methodist Church organized their "literary thinkers" to form a literary society consisting of both men and women. The New Ideal Literary Society was fundraising in 1893 and the United Sisters of Benevolence in 1890 elected officers and  appointed committees, including a Relief Committee and a Festival Committee. The Ladies Benevolent Aid Society planned a funeral and buried a local woman who had no relatives here. The Thurman Union, a local African American chapter of the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union, was formed in the fall of 1893. Its president, Emma Ford, addressed the full Kent County WTCU convention in 1899. The Married Ladies Nineteenth Century Club, later called the Nineteenth Century Club, not only studied issues of the day, but publicly protested racist editorials in the newspapers.  All of this information was duly reported in Grand Rapids newspaper articles.

For over 25 years the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History
Mary Roberts Tate
Tate was president of the Nineteenth Century Club for many years. The photograph was taken from the microfilm of  the Grand Rapids Press, December 1, 1906. Often researchers have to rely on newspaper photos, often of inferior quality, for images of the women they study.
Council has underwritten efforts dedicated to rediscovering and crediting the rich past of area women, including the history of the societies of Grand Rapid African American women and the contributions they made to this city.  Join members of the Grand Rapids Study Club, the Women's History Council, and the Grand Rapids Historical Society on February 11 and be introduced to such 19th century women  as Emma Ford,  Mary Roberts Tate, or Mary Buckner Craig, to name only a few.

The activities of these African American women were recorded in local newspapers in the new "Club Women" columns reporting on the numerous literary and benevolence societies forming among diverse groups of women in the city. While subject matter varies, all the groups seem to have followed similar meeting formats, including displays of musical talent or dramatic readings by members or members' daughters, items of club business, papers presented on issues of the day followed by discussion, and, of course, refreshments.

Yvonne Sims, winner of a Giants Award in 1986 for community service, has helped lead such significant community events as the Forum on Violence, while pursuing a career as teacher and administrator in the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  She has served as a Lifestyles columnist for the Grand Rapids Times and has invested in projects of the Grand Rapids Study Club, ensuring that the club kept "rowing, not drifting" into the 21st century toward its goals of bettering the community. Her historical programs and oversight of club archives have been a major addition to local women's history.

By profession a literary scholar, Jo Ellyn Clarey taught at a variety of academic institutions before entering the world of local women's history. She has helped document the achievements of lost women and forgotten events, including those representing early African American women in Grand Rapids. She received the  annual Albert Baxter Award in 1999 in local history, and has served on the boards of the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, the Grand Rapids Historical Society, the Grand Rapids Historical Commission, and organized women's history research and programming statewide and nationally.

Thursday, February 11, 2016
  7 p.m.
John F. Donnelly Conference Center at Aquinas College
157 Woodward Lane SE
(click on Donnelly Conference Center for campus map)
Enter the campus from Woodward Avenue SE
Members of the Grand Rapids Study Club, many years after it was founded.

Coming Up!

7 p.m. Tuesday, March 1:
Women, War, & Work in 1910s Grand Rapids
At the Grand Rapids Public Library, Main.   
Gertrude Van Houten's cartoon drawing of herself at work.
Using unique archival resources, Grand Rapids Public Library local history experts Julie Tabberer, Heather Edwards, and Drew Damron will highlight women employed outside their homes when wartime opened doors, both personal and professional, for an early woman cartoonist, for a pioneering political figure, and for young women in factories.
5 - 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30: 
Our annual reception  at the Women's City Club.      
Deirdre Toeller-Novak will present 
Shattering Glass Ceilings:  
Women's Elective History in Grand Rapids, 1888-2015,
focusing on five firsts, examples of women in elective politics in Grand Rapids history, culminating with our special guest, recently-elected first woman mayor Rosalynn Bliss.  
Complimentary hors-d'oeuvres 
Wine: $5/glass
(A free glass of wine to new and renewing members)  
Reservations appreciated: Email
or call 616-574-7307

Visit our web site and watch for future email contacts with updates and further details.  

Join us or Update your Membership!  

Not a current member of GGRWHC?   Register or renew your membership and help offset the expenses associated with annual research and programs. 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 on the second Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. 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 or plan to attend a meeting.



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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!