Apr 10, 2019 09:00AM
Meet the Women of West Michigan Who Made History
(1846-1930) First woman delegate to a Polish National Alliance National Convention
Dubbed the Queen of the Poles, Valeria Lipczynski was a dynamic figure in the Grand Rapids immigrant community from the time of her arrival at age 23. Emigrating from Prussian-occupied Poland in 1869 when fewer than a dozen Polish families lived in Grand Rapids, Lipczynski worked as a correspondent to national Polish newspapers to recruit families to the city--and took care of them when they got here. She delivered babies, found jobs, taught English, American history and good citizenship.
She was a one-woman settlement house, helping women into respectable positions and encouraging fellow immigrants to seek political office by organizing the Polish Democratic Club. Among other social, political, religious groups, Lipczynski helped found such parishes as St. Adalbert, St. Isidore, and Sacred Heart, and cultural organizations such as men’s and women’s choirs and the Wiarus Society to maintain Polish traditions.
Grand Rapids couldn’t contain this Polish powerhouse. She joined the Polish National Alliance, the largest fraternal organization in the U.S., and founded the Society of Polish Ladies, which in 1899 became the first women’s organization admitted to the PNA. By 1901 Lipczynski had become the first woman delegate to a PNA national convention, and she was soon after the first woman elected to its board of directors and designated commissioner-at-large for the entire United States.
During World War I Lipczynski’s home became a center for Polish relief work in Europe. Clothing and supplies were collected and money raised to return a free and independent Poland to the map of Europe. For her efforts Lipczynski was awarded the General Haller Swords medal, and in 1925 the Polish government bestowed on her its prestigious Golden Cross of Merit for patriotic services during the Great War, her earlier efforts for immigrants, and her work with the PNA. This whirlwind of a woman deserved every one of her medals!
The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council is dedicated to educating the community and celebrating the legacies of local women, preserving knowledge of their past and inspiring visions for their future. For more information or to get involved, visit ggrwhc.org