Her Legacy: GGRWHC Launches Area-Wide , Year-Long Celebration of Local Suffrage
Jan 01, 2020 05:53PM
by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council | Illustrations by Libby VanderPloeg
Her photo rescued from a 21st-century garage sale, Minnie R. Mickel had been so thoroughly forgotten by her family that they guessed her name was “Grace Kelly Freehouse.” The recent search for Minnie’s actual name and personal history can remind us how easily women have been lost to the past — and how difficult it can be to find them again. Between 1912 and 1914 when Minnie sported suffrage colors, little did she know how long a life her photo would have or that it would become an iconic image of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council and its efforts to recover city women’s suffrage history.
On January 18 at History Detectives 2020, the GGRWHC will launch a year-long celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment granting universal suffrage after a determined fight lasting over seventy years. Unveiling its groundbreaking digital suffrage exhibit, the GGRWHC will uncover exciting Grand Rapids stories and illustrate how the local intersects with national and state long and entangled histories. We will range from instructing that “suffragette” was a British term and that Americans were “suffragists” to explaining that, after the U.S. Congress approved the women’s suffrage amendment in 1918, they sent it to the states for “ratification,” enabling its “certification” as the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
Just as the individual Minnie R. Mickel had been forgotten and misremembered, Grand Rapids’ early and vibrant suffrage history was assigned to oblivion by twentieth-century city histories. And when academic accounts of the state movement began to emerge during the twentieth century, shoddy scholarship overlooked Grand Rapids, even though the city had supplied energetic state leaders and hosted the largest suffrage event ever held in Michigan. In 1899, the annual meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony, met in the spacious, new 700-seat auditorium at St. Cecilia Music Society.
During 2020, the GGRWHC will share its twenty years of research to recover little-known Grand Rapids women suffragists, their organizations, and their diligent work on local, state, and national stages. The posed image of Minnie R. Mickel and the 1899 national convention only sample the range of activity here over several decades. From a city abuzz with activity during Michigan's first statewide campaign for equal voting rights in 1874, to local suffragists striding onto the state’s center stage during the 1880s and 1890s, to their local promotional hijinks but steadfast leadership statewide during the last decade, we will tell tales of a “Lilly Float for Suffragists” gliding past 75,000 spectators, a newspaper takeover, and a national stir caused by the lone African American delegate to the NAWSA convention.
The culmination of GGRWHC’s area-wide and year-long celebration of the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment will be HER VOICE HER VOTE on Equality Day, the August 26th anniversary of certification. Mark your calendars for festivities and join the crowd at St. Cecilia Music Center for a grand salute to our suffragist forebears and their contemporary inheritors!
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