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
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
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,
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.
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.