Board of Directors
Kate van Liere
Jo Ellyn Clarey
Kristin Du Mez
Kate van Liere
Ruth Van Stee
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Grand Rapids Woman Inducted
into Michigan Women's Hall of Fame
Ella Mae Backus, U. S. Attorney
On October 18, Ella Mae Backus (1863-1938) will be celebrated and inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.
Several years ago GGRWHC board member
"discovered" Ella Mae Backus, a female attorney who worked in the U.S. Attorney's office in Grand Rapids from 1903 to 1938. A professor of legal studies at GVSU, Stevens was intrigued, and her curiosity about Backus led to years of thorough research on the her life and work. After telling the Backus story to audiences at programs and conferences, Stevens wrote a paper on career of this female attorney, which was accepted and published in the
Michigan Historical Review
Fall, 2016 issue
This year, Stevens worked through the process of nominating Backus to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame and the nomination was accepted!
Backus grew up on a farm in central Michigan. After graduating from high school, she worked as a stenographer in a small law office in Traverse City. This choice set her on the path to becoming an attorney and, in 1895, she was admitted to the bar in Traverse City. She moved to Grand Rapids in 1903 to work in the U.S. Attorney's office here.
Photographs courtesy of the
U. S. Attorney's Office for Western Michigan District
In 1923, she was appointed the first female Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Michigan, one of only six women in the nation at that time holding this position. Her tenure in the U.S. Attorney's office was remarkable, working for six different U.S. Attorneys. Both Republican or Democratic appointees chose to retain Backus because of her immense knowledge of federal law and procedure. Her 35 years of service here covered turbulent times, including World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression and the New Deal.
She was appreciated not only for her legal knowledge, but also for her strength of character and dedication to her work. As the first female member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, Backus blazed the trail for generations of women who followed her into the legal profession in West Michigan. After her death, colleagues remarked that, " ... she served her country with as much loyalty, fidelity, and unselfish devotion as any patriot whoever marched in battle in defense of his country's flag."
Michigan Women's Hall of Fame:
and note other women from West Michigan in the Hall of Fame. The Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council is proud to have played a role in the nomination process for many of them. A few examples include Helen Claytor, Emma Cole, Mary Jane Dockeray, Grace Eldering, Pearl Kendrick, Elizabeth Eaglesfield, Emily Burton Ketcham.
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The Second Line of Defense:
Grand Rapids Women and the Great War
Led by the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense, Grand Rapids women were among the midwestern leaders whose pioneering work greatly affected the social welfare of the country. Their efforts included food programs, child welfare, and proper working conditions for women and children.
Melissa Fox is a librarian, formerly working in the Grand Rapids Public Library, Special Collections, and currently serving as president of the GGRWHC board.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
Grand Rapids Public Library, Main
Ryerson Auditorium, 7:00 pm
Each year the GGRWHC cooperates with the Grand Rapids Historical Society by planning for one their regular monthly programs.
Join us or Update your Membership!
Not a current member of GGRWHC?
Register or renew your membership
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.
Board meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month at 4:30 p.m. in the Vanderveen Center for the Book at the Grand Rapids Public Library. If you have suggestions for programs, oral histories, or other items, please
or plan to attend a meeting.
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