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



October 13, 2017

Board of Directors
Melissa Fox
Kate van Liere
Connie Ingham
Ruth VanStee
Julia Bouwkamp    
Jo Ellyn Clarey 
Michelle DeRose 
Kristin Du Mez  
Melissa Fox 
Connie Ingham 
Kyle Irwin
Mary Seeger
Ruth Stevens 
    Dunham Strand 
Julie Tabberer
Kate van Liere   
Ruth Van Stee  

Deirdre Toeller-Novak
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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
Ruth Stevens "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 in the 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: visit the website 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.  

** *** ** *** ** *** **   
Next Up!
The Second Line of Defense:  
Grand Rapids Women and the Great War
presented by  
Melissa Fox
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.   
Keep up with us on our website!


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 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 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!