Michigan Women's History

It has only been 97 years since women won the right to vote!

Michigan's first woman U.S. Senator was elected only 17 years ago! 

The women listed below are either from Michigan, or lived in Michigan for most of their lives, and have been inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame.  All of these women are inspiring role models for girls and other women throughout the state of Michigan, and beyond.  Their history provides a fuller picture of our state's history for all Michiganders!

"Often we women are risk averse. I needed the push. Now, more than ever, young women need more seasoned women to provide that encouragement, to take a risk, to go for it. Once a glass ceiling is broken, it stays broken." - Jennifer Granholm, Michigan's First Woman Governor.



Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman" Speech

Grand Rapids Women's History

The greater Grand Rapids area is rich with the history of women who have shaped the city and the communities beyond.  Women who's accomplishments include; bringing la Grande Vitesse to the city, establishing St. Mary's Hospital, St. Cecelia Music Society and Blandford Nature Center, will all be featured below. 

anna bissell

Anna Bissell
(Chief Executive Officer of the Bissell Corporation)

Edith Irwin Blodgett
(Served on the Board and Developed the GR Symphony Orchestra)

Nancy Mulnix
(Brought la Grande Vitesse to GR)

Betty Ford
(Former First Lady was an advocate for Breast Cancer Research and established the Betty Ford clinic)


emily ketcham

Emily Ketcham
(Best known of the founders of the Grand Rapids Suffrage groups)

Norma Brink
(Teacher, Actress who served on the Board for the Civic and the Circle Theaters)

Mary Jane Dockeray
(Naturalist and environmentalist, developed the Blandford Nature Center)

helen claytor

Helen Jackson Claytor
(1st black woman elected president of the YWCA)

Dr. Pearl Kendrick & Dr. Grace Eldering
(Developed the first vaccine for whooping cough)

Jeannette St. Clair
(Instrumental in bringing federally funded Ed dollars for Native Americans to the GR Schools)

Maurilia Ortiz Blakely
(Organized the first Hispanic Festival in GR)



Assistant US Attorney Ella Mae Backus: A most important figure in the legal profession in the Western District of Michigan, by Ruth Stevens.

The Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame

Historical Women of Michigan: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, by Rosalie Reigle

Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council

Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council Fall 2017 Newsletter

St. Cecilia Music Society (Established in 1883 by 9 GR women determined to promote the study and appreciation of music).

League of Women Voters Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Women's Resource Center

Women's City Club

Grand Rapids Study Club

Legacy Landmark Walking Tour Brochure: Walking with women who left their mark on downtown Grand Rapids

Rediscovering Merze Tate: A remarkable African-American woman who grew up in our own backyard, the Rapidian.

Grand Rapids Women in the Military, GR Women's History Council.

Education Equality: Title IX Defined, GR Women's History Council.

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

Taking to the Streets! Seeking Suffrage in Grand Rapids, GR Women's History Council

The story of how three women in Michigan found the vaccine for whooping cough, a radio conversation with Mark Harvey of the Michigan History Center, for NPR Michigan Radio.

Michigan Women's Hall of Fame Announces the 2017 Class of Honorees  (One of the honorees is the American Legion NUWARINE Post 535 in Lansing, Michigan's last remaining all-female American Legion Post.)

NUWARINE exhibit celebrates women in uniform, with WKAR Radio's Kevin, Lavery.  Listen to this great interview with Emily Fijol, Executive Director of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, as they talk about the Post's history.

Famous Speeches in History Given by Women

Women's Equality Day Brochure

National Women's History Month Brochure

How Women Won the Right to Vote 1920-2020 Celebrating the Centennial of Women's Suffrage.

National Women's History Project

Women Go To War: Furniture Factory Work During World War 1 - Ongoing Exhibit During ArtPrize, GR Public Library, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI.

Michigan Women's History Trail - Several years ago the Michigan Women's Studies Association created a theme rail recognizing distinguished Michigan women.  The trail consists of signs located across the state that share information about each of the women, are you ready for a road trip?  Find the sign located in your Michigan county and/or community!

Jill S. Tietjen's Huffington Post Blog - A fun series of quizzes focusing on Women's History!  Find out how many correct answers you can come up with!

Mini Bio of Betty Ford - Former First Lady From Grand Rapids

Betty Ford (1918-2011) was an American first lady (1974-77) and the wife of Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States. Ford realized the power of her position as first lady early on, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her husband took office. Her public disclosure of a previously taboo subject encouraged thousands of women to seek medical treatment. Ford continued to speak openly on a number of social and political issues, for which she received both criticism and praise. In 1982, after overcoming her own dependence on alcohol and prescription pills, she founded the Betty Ford Center, a substance abuse and addiction treatment facility.

Michigan Women's Historial Timeline

1702 Marie-Therese Guyon Cadillac* and Anne Picote de Belestre de Tonti* join their husbands at Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit), becoming the first two European women settlers in Michigan.

1804 The first permanent trading post in Michigan is founded near present-day Ada by Magdelaine Laframboise* and her husband Joseph.

1820 Susan Johnston (Ozhawguscodaywaquay, "Green Meadow Woman") is the first Native American woman within the Michigan territory to facilitate a treaty between her people (the Ojibwa) and the U.S. government; the Treaty of Cession provides land for the founding of Fort Brady at Sault Ste. Marie.

1832 Laura Smith Haviland* and Elizabeth Margaret Chandler* found the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society in Lenawee County, the first women's anti-slavery society in the Michigan territory, leading to one of the first Michigan stations of the Underground Railroad to Canada.

1837 Michigan becomes a state.

1846 Ernestine Rose, a reformer from New York, speaks before the Michigan Legislature "on the science of government." The lecture is well received and the House passes a second resolution granting Mrs. Rose the use of the House of Representatives the following evening for a second lecture on "the antagonistical principles of society." Both lectures were likely on women's rights and the lack of protection afforded to women under the law.

1848 The first Women's Rights Convention is held at Seneca Falls, New York. Catharine Ann Fish Stebbins (who moves to Detroit in 1867) participates in the discussion of the Declaration of Sentiments issued from the Convention and signs it..

1849 A Senate committee, led by Senator Rix Robinson of Ada, proposes a universal suffrage amendment, but it is not acted upon because of the "unusualness" and "needlessness" of the franchise for women.

1851 Sojourner Truth of Battle Creek speaks before the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

The first women's club in Michigan, the Flint Ladies Library Association, is founded.

1852 Livonia Benedict* is the first Michigan woman to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, at Hillsdale College.

1855 Suffragists from Lenawee County present petitions for woman suffrage, signed by many state citizens, to the Michigan Legislature.

The first college for Michigan women, the Michigan Female College, is founded at Lansing by Abigail Rogers*.

1857 The Michigan Legislature gives greater attention to woman suffrage petitions, but takes no action.

1859 A House committee considers the vote for black males but not for women, causing resentment among women.

1861-1865 The Civil War is fought in America.

1861 The nation's first Ladies Aid Society, for the purpose of providing aid to Civil War soldiers at hospitals, camps, and battlefields, is organized in Detroit.

Jennie Hayes of Lansing is the first Michigan woman to enlist as a Civil War nurse in the First Michigan Regiment of Volunteers.

Ellen White of Battle Creek co-founds the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (the first organization of Seventh-day Adventist churches) at Battle Creek; in 1863, she co-founds the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, also at Battle Creek.

Sarah Emma Edmonds* of Flint, the first Michigan woman to be a Civil War soldier, serves with the Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment as "Pvt. Franklin Thompson."

1866 The state's first bill on woman suffrage is defeated by one vote.

1867 The Michigan Legislature grants women taxpayers the right to vote for school trustees, but rejects total woman suffrage.

1868 120 women vote unchallenged in the Sturgis, Michigan school elections.

1869 The Fifteenth Amendment is passed by Congress, granting the vote to males regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Lucy Stone leads the formation of the American Woman Suffrage Association.

1870 The Michigan State Woman Suffrage Association is formed at Battle Creek. The woman suffrage amendment is passed by the Michigan Legislature, but vetoed by the governor.

Madelon Louisa Stockwell* of Albion is the first woman admitted to the University of Michigan, the first state university to admit women. The University of Michigan medical school also accepts its first women students. Stockwell graduates in 1872.

Mary Green of Charlotte is said to be the first woman physician in the country to be admitted to any medical association, with her election to the New York Medical Society in ca. 1870.

1871 Nannett Gardner* of Detroit and Mary Wilson* of Battle Creek vote in city and state elections.

Amanda Sanford* is the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan medical school.

The Ladies Library Association of Kalamazoo builds the first clubhouse in the nation for a woman's organization. In 1879, Hannah Trask Cornell becomes its first librarian.

Sarah Killgore Wertman is the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan Law School and the first woman to practice law in Michigan.

1872 Frances Armstrong Rutherford* of Grand Rapids, Ruth Geary*, and Sibelia Baker* are the first women physicians to be admitted to the Michigan State Medical Society.

The first public school kindergarten in Michigan is founded by Fannie Richards*, the first African-American teacher in Detroit's integrated school system, at the Everett School in 1871.

1874 The State Legislature puts a woman suffrage amendment on the ballot, but it is defeated, 135,957 to 40,077; the Michigan State Woman Suffrage Association disbands.

1875 The statewide Women's Christian Temperance Union is formed at Grand Rapids.

1878 Virginia Watts* of Ann Arbor is the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Michigan; in 1885, she becomes the first African-American woman to graduate from the university.

1880 Anna Howard Shaw* of Big Rapids is the first woman in the nation to become a fully ordained minister in the Methodist Church.

1881 School suffrage is extended to parents and guardians of children of school age.

Emma Hall* of Tecumseh is the first woman to be head of a state institution, as superintendent of the Reform School for Girls at Adrian, the first girls' reformatory in the U.S. run by an all-woman staff and a board of directors consisting mainly of women.

1880s F. Elizabeth Palmer* of Albion is the first woman in Michigan elected to a board of education, under the new law granting school suffrage to women.

1884 The Michigan Equal Suffrage Association is formed in Flint with Mary Doe* of Bay City as the first president.

Michigan's Senator Thomas W. Palmer makes the first speech in the U.S. Senate in support of woman's suffrage.

1889 The Michigan Supreme Court upholds the right of Eva Belles* of Flint to vote in school board elections, after she was refused that right in 1888 (Belles vs. Burr).

The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association merge to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

1890 The Michigan Women's Press Association is founded at Traverse City, with Belle McArthur Perry of Charlotte as its first president.

1893 The Michigan State Legislature passes municipal suffrage, but the Michigan Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional on the grounds that "the legislature has no right to create a new class of voters."

1895 A proposed constitutional amendment to grant women suffrage is defeated in the House.

The Michigan State Federation of Women's Clubs is founded, with Clara Avery* of Detroit as its first president.

1898 Ellen May Tower* of Byron is the first U.S. Army nurse to die on foreign soil, of typhoid fever in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, and is the first woman to receive a military funeral in Michigan.

The Michigan Association of Colored Women's Clubs is founded by Mary McCoy* of Detroit and Lucinda Thurman* of Jackson, with Thurman as president and McCoy as vice president.

1899 The National American Woman Suffrage Association holds its annual convention in April at the St. Cecilia Society hall in Grand Rapids, the only time the convention is held in Michigan.

1900 Alice Chaney* of Detroit is the first woman to be licensed as a ship's captain on the Great Lakes.

1902 Agnes Nestor of Grand Rapids co-founds the International Glove Workers Union.

1903 The Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, one of the oldest self-sustaining women's art organizations in the country, is organized.

1904 Anna Howard Shaw* of Big Rapids is elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

The Michigan Nurses Association is founded, with Lystra Gretter* of Detroit as its first president.

1907-8 At the State Constitutional Convention, woman's suffrage is defeated 57 to 38, but women who pay taxes can vote on local bonding and tax issues.

1908 The first women's curling club in the country, the Grand Rapids Women's Curling Club, is formed.

1911 Harriet Quimby* of Branch County is the first woman in the nation (second in the world) to receive a pilot's license.

Annie Smith Peck, at age 61, is the first person to reach the peak of Peru's 21,150 ft. Mt. Coropuna, where she drives in a pennant declaring "Votes for Women."

1912 Governor Charles Osborn successfully urges the Michigan State Legislature to put the suffrage question before the all-male electorate in November. Clara Arthur* of Detroit leads the campaign and the proposal appears to win. However, the opposition steals the election under suspicious circumstances.

Beginning in 1912, the Michigan State Grange, led by Jennie Buell of Ann Arbor and Ida Chittenden of Lansing, is the only state Grange to campaign actively for woman suffrage.

The Detroit Business Woman's Club, the first professional woman's club in the nation, is founded, with Emily Helen Butterfield*, the first woman in Michigan to be a registered architect, as its first president.

1913 The Michigan Association Opposed to Equal Suffrage is formed. The suffrage proposal is again put on the ballot and again defeated.

1915 The American Women's Medical Association is founded, with Bertha Van Hoosen* of Rochester as its first president.

1916 Frances Elliott Davis* of Detroit is the first African-American nurse officially accepted into the American Red Cross.

1917 The United States joins the Allies in World War I.

Ella H. Aldinger of Lansing, Betsy Graves Reyneau and Kathleen McGraw Hendrie of Detroit, and Mrs. G.B. Jennison of Bay City join Alice Paul of the National Woman's Party to picket the White House in support of woman suffrage. Reyneau is arrested and sentenced to 60 days of hard labor in prison.

Governor Albert Sleeper signs a bill on May 8, granting Michigan women the right to vote in presidential elections.

1918 Michigan male voters approve a state constitutional amendment granting suffrage to Michigan women.

The Michigan Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs is founded, with Lena Lake Forrest* of Detroit as its first president.

1919 Michigan women vote for statewide offices for the first time.

The National Suffrage Amendment, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is passed by Congress on June 5. Michigan is the second state to ratify the amendment on June 10.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association disbands and is replaced by the League of Women Voters. The Michigan League of Women Voters is led by Florence Belle Brotherton* of Detroit.

The first all-woman jury in Michigan is seated in Detroit on March 19, with Mabel Greenwood of Detroit as foreman.

Ella Eggleston of Hastings is the first woman to be appointed as a probate judge in Michigan.

Phoebe Ely Patterson* of Plymouth is the first woman in Michigan to be a justice of the peace.

Anna Howard Shaw* of Big Rapids is the first woman in the nation to receive the Distinguished Service Medal, for her work as chair of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense.

1920 The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting the vote to women, becomes law on August 26. Women vote for the first time in the presidential election on November 2.

1921 Eva McCall Hamilton* of Grand Rapids is the first woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature with her election to the Michigan Senate.

1923 The Equal Rights Amendment is introduced in the U.S. Congress.

1925 Cora Reynolds Anderson* of L'Anse is the first woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.

1928 The Elliottorian Business Women's Club, the first African-American business women's club in Detroit and Michigan, is founded by Elizabeth Nelson Elliott* of Detroit.

1930 The Detroit Housewives League, the first such league in the nation, is formed to encourage African-American women to use their economic power to improve their own community. Founder Fannie Peck* of Detroit later becomes the first president of the National Housewives League formed in 1933.

Ella Bareis Prochnow of Ann Arbor is the first woman in Michigan to own and manage an automobile dealership.

1930s Grace Eldering* and Pearl Kendrick* of Grand Rapids develop the first successful vaccine for whooping cough. They later develop the single inoculation for diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus.

The County Extension Program, to train farm women as leaders of homemaker groups and 4-H clubs, is founded at Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State University) by Edna V. Smith*.

1937 The Women's Emergency Brigade and UAW Women's Auxiliary, led by Genora Dollinger, support the sit-down strike for union organizing at General Motors Corporation in Flint.

1941 Lila Neuenfelt of Dearborn is the first woman to be a circuit court judge in Michigan, serving on the Wayne County Circuit Court.

The United States enters World War II.

1942 The Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (later called the Women's Airforce Service Pilots or WASPS) is founded by Nancy Harkness Love* of Houghton, the first woman air ferry pilot in the nation in 1940.

The nation's first chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America (mothers of military men and women) is founded at Flint with Adda Harris as president.

1943 The All American Girls Professional Baseball League, formed while players on men's baseball teams are in military service, includes the Grand Rapids Chicks, the Battle Creek Belles, and the Muskegon Lassies; the League is active until the mid-1950s.

Charlotte Plummer Owen of Ann Arbor founds the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve Band, the official band of the women in the Marine Corps during World War II. She is the only woman to guest-conduct the U. S. Marine Band, in 1945 and again in 1993.

1944 U.S. Army Nurse Aleda Lutz* of Freeland is the first U.S. military woman to die in a combat zone during World War II when her hospital plane goes down on her 196th rescue mission.

1946 Dorothy Waite Pearl of Eastport founds Girls' Nation and Girls' State, to help high school girls throughout the country learn how their state and federal governments function.

1948 Waunetta McClellan Dominic of Petoskey co-founds the Northern Michigan Ottawa Association, to secure treaty- based rights for the non-reservation Ottawa and Chippewa people of Michigan.

1949 Mary Beck* of Detroit became the first woman elected to the Detroit Common Council, later becoming the first woman elected President pro tempore, first woman elected President, and first woman to serve as Acting Mayor.

1950 Ruth Thompson* of Muskegon is the first Michigan woman elected to Congress, in the House of Representatives where she is the first woman member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Charline Rainey White* of Detroit is the first African-American woman elected to the Michigan House of Representatives.

1952 Cora Mae Brown* of Detroit is the first African-American woman elected to the Michigan Senate.

1953 Irene Auberlin of Detroit founds World Medical Relief, an organization that has provided medical supplies throughout the world for more than 40 years.

1961 Clara Raven* of Detroit is the first woman physician to be a full colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

1965 Elly Peterson* of Charlotte is the first woman to be state chair of a major political party in Michigan, as chair of the Republican Party.

Viola Liuzzo of Detroit is the first white woman to be murdered as a civil rights worker, while working for the movement in Alabama.

1967 Ann Holtgren Pellegreno* of Saline is the first aviator in the U.S. to recreate the world flight of Amelia Earhart, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Earhart's disappearance in 1937.

Noreen Hillary of Grand Rapids and Kay Whitfield of Flint are the first women to become Michigan State Police Troopers.

1968 The Michigan Women's Commission is established by the Michigan State Legislature.

1969 Michigan's first chapter of the National Organization for Women is convened by Patricia Hill Burnett* of Detroit.

1970 Cornelia Kennedy* of Detroit is the first woman to be a federal judge, with her appointment to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan.

1971 The Women's Crisis Center is founded in Ann Arbor, one of the first two rape crisis centers in the nation.

1972 Mary Stallings Coleman* of Battle Creek is the first woman elected to the Michigan Supreme Court.

1973 The Michigan Women's Studies Association, the first women's studies association in the nation, is founded at Michigan State University

The Equal Rights Amendment is reintroduced in Congress by Rep. Martha Griffiths* of Michigan, 50 years after it was first introduced.

The first Title IX complaint against a university, charging gross discrimination against women in athletics, is filed by Marcia J. Federbush* of Ann Arbor.

Carolyn King* of Ypsilanti, at age 12, is the first girl in the country to play in Little League Baseball.

1974 The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) is founded, with Olga Madar* of Detroit as its first president.

The Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct Act, which labels rape as a violent crime while insuring the victim's privacy, is passed after being drafted by Virginia Nordby* of Ann Arbor.

Belita Cowan of Ann Arbor founds the National Women's Health Network, the only national consumer organization devoted to women's health.

1975 ERAmerica, with Elly Peterson* of Charlotte and Liz Carpenter as the first national co-chairs, is founded in Washington, D.C., to win support for the Equal Rights Amendment.

The National Organization for Women's Wife Abuse Task Force in Washtenaw County establishes Michigan's first network of private homes to shelter survivors of domestic violence.

1976 ERAmerica is founded in Michigan by Helen W. Milliken* of Traverse City.

1978 Margaret Brewer* of Durand is the first woman to be a general in the U.S. Marine Corps.

1979 Mary Stallings Coleman* of Battle Creek is the first woman to be chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

1980 Marjorie Swank Matthews* of Onaway is the first woman elected as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.

1982 Martha W. Griffiths* of Romeo is the first woman elected to the office of lieutenant governor of Michigan.

Martha Mertz of Okemos founds the ATHENA Award Program to honor outstanding business and professional women for their achievements, community service and assistance to other women in gaining leadership skills; the program becomes national in 1985 and international in 1994.

1983 The annual Celebration of Michigan Women, at which historical and contemporary women are inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame, is founded by the Michigan Women's Studies Association.

1984 Judith Craig* of Royal Oak is the first woman to serve in Michigan as a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

1986 Catherine Comet is the first woman in the country to be the official conductor of a professional orchestra, as conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra.

1987 The Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, the first historical center in the nation to focus on the achievements of the women of a single state, is opened at Lansing by the Michigan Women's Studies Association, with Gladys May Beckwith* as its first director.

Teola Hunter* of Detroit is the first woman elected as speaker pro tem of the Michigan House of Representatives.

1988 Yolanda Alvarado-Ortega of East Lansing founds the Hispanic Women's Network of Michigan.

1990 Susan Hershberg Adelman of Southfield is the first woman to be president of the Michigan State Medical Society in its 124-year history.

1991 Melissa Rathbun-Nealy of Newaygo is the first U.S. Army woman to be a prisoner of war in the Persian Gulf War.

1992 Merrily Dean Baker* of Okemos is the first woman to be the athletic director at a Big Ten university, at Michigan State University.

A record number of women is elected to the U.S. Congress and the Michigan Legislature, making a total of 47 women in the U.S. House of Representatives, six women in the U.S. Senate, 25 women in the Michigan House of Representatives, and three women in the Michigan Senate.

1993 Alta DeRoo of Paw Paw is one of the first two women chosen for combat training as a U.S. Navy pilot.

Julie Krone of Eau Claire is the first woman jockey to win a triple crown event in the Belmont Stakes and the first woman to win five races in one day at Saratoga.

Collette Webster of Sunfield is the first American to die in the Bosnian War.

1994 Margaret Dhaene of Lansing is in the first group of women in the U.S. Navy assigned to a combatant ship.

Candice Miller of Macomb County is the first woman elected as Michigan Secretary of State.

The first on-campus domestic violence shelter in the country is founded at Michigan State University by Joanne McPherson of East Lansing.

1995 The first publicly funded domestic violence shelter in the country is founded in Ann Arbor, with Susan McGee as its executive director.

Suellen Finatri of Roscommon is the first woman to ride horseback from St. Ignace to Anchorage, Alaska, starting out on February 1 and reaching Anchorage by December.

The 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ratified on August 26, 1920, is celebrated throughout the year and those involved in the long struggle to win the vote for women are honored for their courage and commitment to the cause of equal suffrage.

2000 Debbie Stabenow is the first woman from Michigan elected to the U.S. Senate.

2002 Jennifer Granholm is elected the first woman governor of Michigan.

2007 The Michigan Women's Historical Center, founded by the Michigan Women's Studies Association and located in the Cooley-Haze House in Lansing, celebrates its 20th anniversary.

*Starred names indicate women who are listed in "Michigan Women: First and Founders Volume II," published by the Michigan Women's Studies Association and available through the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, 213 W. Malcolm X Street, Lansing, MI 48933. To place an order, please visit the Center's online gift shop or call 517-484-1880.

The Grand Rapids Chicks 1945-1954

By the fall of 1942, many minor league teams disbanded due to the war. Young men, 18 years of age and over, were being drafted into the armed services. The fear that this pattern would continue and that Major League Baseball Parks across the country were in danger of collapse is what prompted Philip K. Wrigley, the chewing-gum mogul who had inherited the Chicago Cubs' Major League Baseball franchise from his father, to search for a possible solution to this dilemma. Wrigley asked Ken Sells, assistant to the Chicago Cubs' General Manager to head a committee to come up with ideas. The committee recommended a girls' softball league be established to be prepared to go into Major League parks should attendance fall due to franchises losing too many quality players to attract crowds.

With the dedication of a group of Midwestern businessmen and the financial support of Mr.Wrigley, the All-American Girls Softball League emerged in the spring of 1943. The League was formed as a non-profit organization. A board of trustees was formed which included Philip K. Wrigley; Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager; Paul V. Harper, Chicago attorney and trustee for the University of Chicago and Chicago Cubs attorney; and Ken Sells, who was named President of the League. Midway in the first season of play, the board of trustees changed the League's name to All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL) to make it distinctive from the existing softball leagues and because the rules of play were those of Major League Baseball. However, the retention of shorter infield distances and underhand pitching caused some controversy in the media about "Baseball" in the League name. Thus, at the end of the 1943 season, the official League name was again changed to the more descriptive All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL). This title was retained until the end of the 1945 season when All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL) was again adopted and retained through 1950. It was during this time period that overhand pitching and smaller ball sizes were adopted. When independent team owners purchased the League at the end of the 1950 season, the official League name was changed to the American Girls Baseball League (AGBL), but popularly it continued to be identified as the All-American League or the All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBBL). Through the organization of the Players' Association in1986, and through their efforts to gain recognition by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, the league has now come to be recognized as what it was in actuality: the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

Although some Grand Rapids women played baseball in the nineteenth century, not until the late 1940s did a professional women's team thrill local fans. Baseball executives started the All American Girls Professional Baseball League when it seemed President Franklin Roosevelt might cancel the 1944 major league season as not essential to the war effort. The major league season did in fact continue, but women's baseball had been launched. The Chicks moved to Grand Rapids from their first home in Milwaukee, where they had won the league championship in 1944, and they prospered here until the league succumbed in 1954 to television, competition from other sports, and bad management.

The Grand Rapids Chicks Collection in the Grand Rapids Public Library includes baseball trading cards for the women players, a number of who were interviewed for the Hollywood movie “A League of Their Own." Women training to play baseball dealt with more than their male colleagues. Besides attending compulsory charm school classes, they were forced to play in short, flashy skirts that hardly protected them when sliding into base.

Over the ten years of the league's existence, women's rules evolved to match regulation baseball. Balls shrank from softball to baseball size, the pitcher's mound and base paths were lengthened, and pitchers started throwing overhand. The Chicks played the game and local fans in Grand Rapids responded enthusiastically. Once, a crowd of 10,000 turned out for a championship game. Always a strong team, the Grand Rapids women won league championships in 1947 and 1953 and made the playoffs every year of their existence.  

gr checks

The Grand Rapids Chicks in 1945

Photograph Lineup

Back, L-R:  Marge Wenzell, Doris Tetzlaff, Betty Whiting, Josephine Kabick, Benny Meyer (Manager), Dorothy Hunter(Chaperone), Connie Wisniewski, Kay Blumetta, Twila Shively, Joyce Hill.
Front, L-R:  Viola Thompson, Sylvia Wronski, Thelma Eisen, Ernestine Petras, Philomina Gianfrancisco, Elizabeth Wicken, Alma Ziegler, Dorothy Maguire.      Marilyn Jenkins (Bat Girl) Absent from photo

GR Chicks Now

The Grand Rapids Chicks - Now!

Dorothy A. "Dottie" Johnson

As CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations for 25 years, Dorothy Ahlburg Johnson created a national model for regional grant-making. Her work helped generate millions in charitable assets for Michigan communities. Attending the last class of the Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration, she served on two Fortune 500 company boards.

At the invitation of Presidents Clinton and Bush, Johnson has advised the White House on volunteering and giving. When funding for AIDS services was considered “risky,” she initiated the Michigan AIDS Fund which became a national model.

Johnson was the first woman board chair of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and served for 32 years as a trustee, one of the largest private international foundations in the world. Privately, she coaches the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance working to break down racial barriers.

Johnson holds a lifetime achievement award from the Grand Rapids Economic Club and in 2000 received the highest award of her profession, Grantmaker of the Year, from the Council on Foundations. An elder in her church, currently she co-chairs a national initiative to teach children about giving and service, and serves on the boards of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Princeton Theological Seminary. Grand Valley State University, where she served on the board for 16 years,honors her achievements with the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. She is the proud mother of two daughters and six grandchildren.

Dorothy Johnson

Page last modified February 20, 2018