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



July 11, 2016

GGRWHC Board of Directors

Mary Seeger,
Jo Ellyn Clarey,
Ruth VanStee,
Connie Ingham
Jennifer Bryant 
Jo Ellyn Clarey
Susan Coombes
Kristin Du Mez 
Connie Ingham 
Kyle Irwin
Mary Seeger
Ruth Stevens 
Amy Dunham Strand 
Julie Tabberer  
Ruth Van Stee 
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Anna Sutherland Bissell
Dedication of a Community Legends Statue

July 21, 2016, 10 a.m.,
  Near DeVos Convention Center
west side of the building, along the river.


A statue of businesswoman Anna Sutherland Bissell (1846 - 1934) will be installed next week Thursday along the river outside the DeVos Place Convention Center. Joining Helen Claytor, Bissell will be the second woman honored in the Community Legends series.

Sponsored by the family of Peter Secchia, the project has also funded statues of Lucius Lyon, Chief Noahquageshik (otherwise known as Noonday), Jay Van Andel, the Most Rev. Frederick Baraga, Mayor and Rev. Lyman Parks, and boxer Stanley Ketchel.

Anna Sutherland Bissell was an innovative, progressive businesswoman who built a small carpet sweeper company into an international giant. Her business career began with her marriage to Melville Bissell and their move to Grand Rapids from Kalamazoo in 1871 to expand their crockery and china business.

They were a well-matched team. Melville was a skilled inventor and craftsman, and Anna understood marketing and business development. After Melville developed a functional carpet sweeper in 1876, Anna sold their product from town to town, building a broad customer base.

When a fire struck the first manufacturing
The factory was located along the river at 210-218 Erie Street,  a short street that ran west off Canal  (Monroe), a block south of Michigan Avenue, where the DeVos Place stands today.
plant in 1884, it was Anna who secured loans from local banks and had the factory in production again in 20 days.

After Melville's death in 1889, Anna became chief executive officer and over the next 30 years built the company into the largest firm of its kind in the world. She initiated progressive labor policies, including workers compensation insurance and pension plans, long before these were widespread in industry.

The mother of five children, Anna shouldered civic as well as family responsibilities. She founded the Bissell Settlement House,
The Bissell House opened in October, 1897
modeled after the Hull House in Chicago. It offered classes for recent immigrants and the city's poor, including  kindergarten for the young children,  classes and clubs for older children, a branch of the Grand Rapids Public Library, a reading room for men, even a chance to sing in a chorus led by a local school teacher.

She also extended her personal commitment and financial support to the Blodgett Home for Children and was personally involved in the adoption process at times.   Her daughter related the story of a family who wrote that they wanted to adopt a religious child who could sing well.  Bissell's reply to them was "when a child of a preacher and woman in the church choir leave a child with us, we'll let you know."

She supported  the Union Benevolent Association, now Blodgett Memorial Medical Center, and the Clark Memorial Home, what is today the Clark Retirement Community.  A member of First Methodist Church, Bissell served as a trustee of that church, taking her husband's place on the board after he died and serving until her death in 1934.  In a 1934 article, The Grand Rapids Herald claimed that she was "the first woman ever" to serve as a trustee of a Methodist Episcopal church. 

Anna Sutherland Bissell was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 1990 Bissell's work brought her an honored place in the Junior Achievement of Michigan Great Lakes Business Hall of Fame

Tributes to notable figures from the city's history continue. The Community Legends Sculpture Project plans to erect a total of 25 bronze statues honoring people who helped shape Grand Rapids.

Learn more about the life and work of Anna Sutherland Bissell by visiting the Women's History Council website .

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