Shattering Glass Ceilings: Five Firsts in Grand Rapids Women's Elective History

>> By way of transition, I want to mention a few things that our speaker tonight– Deirdre Toller-Novak– probably won’t be able to, and to acknowledge a few people who are in the room Deirdre will tell you more about the history of our elective history, but work that Sandra Wright– Sandy, did you make it? Oh, there– would you stand? Good, you’ll stand again later (audience chuckling) But work that former city clerk Sandy Wright and I began over 15 years ago has been mined in various ways over the years But it was always important to us to record not only winners but women who ran So far, mostly just in the city of Grand Rapids But today, tonight, our focus will be mostly on winners But there have been and there will be other nights But before we move into that program, I just want to acknowledge a few people who are in the room Did Dianne Byrum make it? I saw her name on the list Okay– >> She couldn’t make it, but I’m here on her behalf >> Okay, you’re…? >> I’m Olivia Adams, and I work for Byrum & Fisk >> Oh, well, welcome– thank you very much I was– you can stand in Dianne’s place (audience laughing) In any case, if you don’t recognize Dianne’s name, Dianne illustrates what I just meant– uh, what I just said She has served both in the state House and Senate Is she currently an MSU trustee? >> Yes, she is, yes >> That’s what I thought But also, after that, she ran– didn’t win, but ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress So has anyone in the room ever run for a national office? Okay, raise your hand Okay, state level? Representative Winnie Brinks, would you stand up? Representing House District 76 (applause) Thank you for coming Winnie is the first woman from the city of Grand Rapids to serve in the state House, and she was elected first in 2012 Today’s speaker, Deirdre Toller-Novak, will clarify how she is a legislative inheritor of one of our five firsts who ran and won from Grand Rapids in 1920 First woman in the state from Grand Rapids Between then and 1998, there was not a woman from Kent County in the state legislature Then, that was Joanne Voorhees in 1998 from the city of Wyoming, and so, and there have been precious few– Lisa Lyons and Winnie Brinks, right? That’s it Anybody else who has run for a state-level office, though? Raise your hand Anybody else in the room who’s actually run? Shirley Zeller, you’ve run Great– for what? >> The Senate, back a long time ago >> Great, great– okay, Shirley Zeller is here from the Michigan Women’s Studies Association in Lansing– the President– and Emily Fijol is the Executive Director Carol >> I ran in 1998 for the state Senate >> Oh, I remember that Carol Hennessy– in fact, we’ll move right along to the county Would you stand, Carol? Carol Hennessy, District 14, Kent County Commission (applause) And Mandy Bolter Mandy Bolter– thank you– way in the back– District 5 (applause) These two women and others who couldn’t make it tonight are inheritors of the first woman County Commissioner who was elected in 1930 You will hear more about her tonight But five women are currently serving on the Kent County Commission How may people are on the commission? 21 or 19? Not enough (audience chuckling) But many women have run over time Hint– there are lots of seats to run for Anybody else made a County run? County-level? Mmm-kay, we have goals to set here (audience chuckling) Before we move on, I want to draw your attention to the photo on the easel to my right This was donated by Jayne Vandermall? >> Male >> Male– Vandermale from Porter Hills She’s 95– her father’s in that photo You will see a close-up of that photograph tonight Dead center is a lone mid-1930s County Commissioner in a sea with 54 men It’s here tonight, courtesy of Ruth Van Stee, who donated it in Jayne Vandermale’s behalf to the Grand Rapids Public Library, so we thank them Okay, city commissioners, currently serving Ruth Kelly, please stand (applause) Along– oh, yes (applause) Along with her intrepid male colleague new to the Commission, Joe Jones (applause) Here’s to the second Ward– I’m a proud Eastowner Deirdre will also be commenting briefly tonight about a history we continue to work on– that of African-American women And we’ve done a little bit of programming on this, we’re still filling in gaps and working on it Local historians, however, need to work on the men We’ve known about an early man– what’s his name, Gordon? Tardy? No, no– Handy A County Commissioner >> Hardy >> Hardy– thank you In 1870 But I just found recently reference to a couple of men who at least were putting themselves up

for City Commission– African-American West Siders– in the 1890s I hadn’t heard of them before, so we have a lot to do in that regard, also I don’t think that Mary Alice Williams made it Right? Not here? Okay, she was going to be, but Mary Alice is an example of a woman who first was elected as a write-in candidate So appointees, write-ins– you’ll be hearing more about the complexities of this City commissioners descendents of the first woman elected in 1961 Deirdre will tell you about her Anybody else run for a city-level office? Okay who? >> Pamela– >> Pamela? Really? >> In Fremont >> Oh, in Fremont! All right! (audience laughing) Pamela is a former board member– thanks for coming to visit us, and thanks for running Is Deborah McNabb here? Oh, please stand Deborah can represent all of those other positions like Comptroller And Deborah is running in a judicial race now– those across all boundaries So, representing those categories Finally, school board– the longest history for women, which you’ll learn more about Our speaker tonight, Deirdre Toller-Novak, finds herself on our list of elected histories in this category, along with Vernis Schad Vernis, where are you? Okay, I know– there she is You know Vernice (applause) (applause) And when the city– or the Community College separated from the public school system, Terri Handlin– Terri, would you stand? You are among the first– in the first class, right? (applause) So, Terri is a former Community College board member, and also– running– also currently, Kathleen Bruinsma is currently running for that (applause) Remember, we don’t endorse We’re nonprofit, etcetera, etcetera, but run Okay? (audience laughing) Anyone else? School board Okay, our fifth first mayor (applause) Go ahead and stand up (applause, cheering) The Honorable Mayor Bliss shatters our most recent glass ceiling You’ll hear from her later For now, let me just note that her predecessor’s in Kent County from East Grand Rapids, Judy Frey, who couldn’t be here at the last minute, and Amna Seibold, the current mayor of East Grand Rapids, wish you well (audience chuckling) Anyone else in this category? I don’t think so, right? Okay, how about any category? Raise your hands if you’ve run for something that I haven’t mentioned Sandy Wright, this is for you Fifth-grade class president (audience laughing) (applause) (general chatter) >> Our presenter, Deirdre Toller-Novak, is working with the History Council proofing a work that began several years ago, namely this list that Jo Ellyn mentioned of all the candidates who had run and so forth But Deirdre herself, of course, belongs in that group She was elected to the board of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Community College She’s done everything in town She headed the Children’s Assessment Center She was working at the Grand Rapids Bar Association And in retirement, she decided to get a Master’s degree And when she finished that, she decided she could come work for us And we’re delighted to have her She’s our webmistress and she’s our speaker tonight Thank you, Deirdre (applause) >> Thank you very much Jo Ellyn talked about the number of people who have run and, of course, everyone who runs for office can’t win But there are a lot of winners here tonight And it’s just exciting to see this many people interested in women’s history So thank you so, so much for being here It’s just pretty exciting I think probably the big draw happened to be our Mayor (audience chuckling) Thank you for being here We are thrilled that you’re here It may come as no surprise that women in Grand Rapids sought to gain more than a voice from the sidelines in shaping the laws that governed their persons, their homes, their families, and their livelihood far earlier than 1920 It may, however, surprise you to know that Grand Rapids, as far as we can determine, may be the only city in the United States with a carefully researched, compiled, and soon-to-be-shared history of women who were nominated, appointed, and elected to office since 1888 It is still sometimes assumed that the second wave of feminists from the ’60s and ’70s were the first to be politically active

and elected to office in Grand Rapids and Kent County It’s an assumption that fails to acknowledge that Grand Rapids women were changing the face of government well before the 20th century This evening, I want to share with you the real accomplishment and the importance of this unique elective history database Tonight, we’re gonna focus only on five of the categories that are included– school board, city and county commission, the legislature, and the mayor We are now in the final stages of checking and rechecking the information, and we’ll make it available to the public later this year when we can claim that it’s at least nearly 100% reliable This is the real test (audience chuckling) If it works, I don’t have to call on my tech gurus Beginning in 1999, the former clerk of the City of Grand Rapids, Sandy Wright, and local historian and literary scholar, Jo Ellyn Clarey, took upon themselves the task of developing an accurate list of the women who sought to have a role in shaping the laws and the regulations that governed the citizens of Grand Rapids Sandy Wright, named “City Clerk of the Year” by the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks in 1989, was the first woman in Grand Rapids to be appointed to serve in that office in 1978 Jo Ellyn moved to Grand Rapids more than twenty-five years ago and has devoted much of her time to research and educating the community about the legacies of women Their data will forge new paths for historians, both local and those connected to academia And much of the material that I’m going to share with you draws heavily from Jo Ellyn’s research, published and unpublished I’m going to ask Jo Ellyn and Sandy to stand for just a minute, so that we can thank them (applause) They’re here (applause) That’s also by way of asking them to be available later for questions, because they have answers that I haven’t begun to take a look at You also see on this particular slide a list of the other valuable resources from which I have drawn both my information and my photos The challenge of compiling an accurate elective history database was difficult Their search required months of tracking down and combing through old, dusty boxes and ledgers Handwritten and typed records can be very hard to decipher They were not reliably generated by computer until the early ’70s in Grand Rapids, and not until the later ’80s in Kent County Although online searching of those databases is still not available Women who stood for office but did not make it through a primary were left off the official lists Those who were appointed to fill vacant terms or who ran as independents are often missing from the records A candidate named Anne Lindemulder turned out to be a man from the Netherlands, where the name is commonly used for men (audience chuckling) A Shirley and a Beverly are also men (audience chuckling) Some candidates ran using only their initials, and their gender could be identified only through press clippings, obituaries, or other records And, of course, the race or nationality of a candidate is not identified Newspapers sometimes published incorrect information as they made assumptions without double-checking their facts And in some case, you see that information reprinted even today Tonight, through the stories of five Grand Rapids women who were the first to be elected to their respective offices, I’m only going to scratch the surface in attempting to suggest the critical importance of having an accurate record of women’s elective history and how it shaped this community Others will, no doubt, mine that archive for richer and larger connections Each of the women that we meet here shattered another of the glass ceilings that impeded the full participation of women

in the process of governing our schools, the city, the county, and the state You will, I hope, see that there is much work yet to be done, particularly as we seek to become an inclusive and diverse community attempting to address the increasingly complex issues around education, the economy, the environment, and how we choose to live together We can’t really determine the full importance of the elective history that Jo Ellyn and Sandy compiled But all local history has implications regionally and nationally This slide offers two perspectives for your consideration The first is for women and men of all ages, politicians, students, and the interested observer of history The quote comes from the National Women’s History Project website– “By walking history’s pathways, “we learn to step forward with confidence “The legacy of how others shaped society “sparks our own longings to contribute “Everyone needs role models– “footsteps enough like ours to inspire us “For girls, knowing women’s achievements “expands their sense of what is possible “For all of us, knowledge of women’s strength “and contributions builds respect and nourishes esteem.” For the historian, I suggest two possible responses Clearly, there will be many more The Grand Rapids data may inspire cities across the Midwest and nation to question prevailing assumptions and to actually chart the data underwriting their own women’s history in their own areas It allows historians to explore the intersections of women’s political history within the larger context of historical events in Michigan, the region, and the nation 1888 was the year that delegates from 53 women’s organizations in nine countries met in Washington DC to form a new association– the International Council of Women The delegates represented a wide variety of organizations, including suffrage associations, professional groups, literary clubs, temperance unions, labor leagues, and missionary societies They came together to advance the cause of women throughout the world, despite their differing missions And they continue that work today In that climate of optimism, Harriet Cook was a feisty, accomplished businesswoman and an activist for women’s suffrage She was smart and even cunning Harriet was married to James Monroe Cook, the local deputy sheriff, but she was a woman of independent means with her own dressmaker business that catered to upper middle-class woman We know that she invested a large amount of her time and her money in lobbying for suffrage Women could not stand for election until they were granted the right to vote, and their desire to have their voices heard as elected decision-makers was not always well-received Something that I don’t need to tell you (audience chuckling) Tax-paying women in the State of Michigan were granted the right to vote in school board elections in 1867, years before they received the right to vote in general municipal elections However, the City of Grand Rapids did not affirm the right of women to vote in school board elections until 1885 when women who were parents or guardians of children of school age, or who possessed taxable property, became eligible to vote and hold office Harriet Cook ran and was elected to the Grand Rapids Public School Board in 1888 She was the first woman in Michigan to be elected to a public school board Cook’s success was not without its drama, as fraudulent attempts were made to thwart her nomination to the Third Ward seat Her election required steely determination to make the system work for her Each of the eight wards in Grand Rapids could then nominate up to three candidates to stand for election through a nominating caucus

And the gentlemen of the Third Ward convened a caucus, nominated one man, and they promptly adjourned The women who were present declared a breach of faith and announced that they would run and support Harriet Cook as an independent candidate She was listed as “H.A. Cook” on the ballot and received enormous support from women, although not all women And she won but was then defeated in her bid for a second term Following her election, the “Grand Rapids Evening Leader” reported the event The paper lists her memberships in prominent organizations and touts Harriet’s trips abroad and her participation at Chautauqua, while also writing that, quote, “Mrs. Cook’s ambition “would have caused her to break down in health “during these years “but for one of the strongest physiques (audience chuckling) “Her success in her avocation “opened many fields for investment, “and in placing monies where they would increase “and give good returns, she has shown business tact “and sagacity that has been excelled but by few men.” Good for Harriet (audience laughing) Once that glass ceiling was shattered by Harriet Cook, women became a regular force on school boards, making national news and prompting this interesting quote from the September 1899 issue of the “Boston Women’s Journal.” “If the records of the past are in evidence, “then the question of the success of women “on school boards has already been settled in the minds “of most citizens, so far as this city of Grand Rapids “is concerned, “and good work may be expected from the three women “now serving in that capacity.” You’ve gotta love it (audience chuckling) The historical– the article headed by the photos in this slide illustrates the difficulty in compiling an accurate database of information In a September 1899 article published in the “Boston Women’s Journal” from which the earlier quote was taken, Mrs. P.M. Goodrich is identified as the first to be elected to the school board in Grand Rapids The information was taken from the “Grand Rapids Herald.” It was repeated nine days later in the “New York Times” in an article featuring the women pictured here In one more example of misinformation, the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame website today erroneously lists Dr. F. Elizabeth Palmer of Albion as the first woman in Michigan to be elected to a local school board She was actually elected, according to the “Albion Interactive History” website in 1891, some three years after Harriet Cook Nevertheless, the Albion website also makes the claim that Dr. Palmer was first The honor of being the first woman to shatter the glass ceiling found at the state level in the Michigan Legislature goes to Eva McCall Hamilton, a Grand Rapids resident who was elected to the State Senate in 1920 the year that Prohibition was enacted and, of course, the year of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote >> Whoooo! (audience laughing) (applause) >> Go for it Eva McCall Hamilton, born in 1871, was active in the Suffrage Movement at least as early as 1910 A school teacher by profession, you see her in the photo in the center of this slide in an early suffrage demonstration She is holding the reins of the horse-drawn “Lilly Float for Suffragists” in a Grand Rapids’ 1910 homecoming parade That’s 10 years before women achieved their goal The float was followed by a display of dozens of cars of members of the Grand Rapids Equal Suffrage Club who rode past thousands of spectators In a 2011 “Grand Rapids Press” article, Jo Ellyn is quoted as saying, “She was kind of a firebrand locally.” That’s an accurate description of a woman about whom Governor Chase Osborn wrote, “I think no one has done better work for the cause “than you.” Over the past several years, there has been an increasing emphasis both within Michigan nationally– by First– uh, both within Michigan, and nationally by First Lady Michelle Obama,

to assure that all citizens can have access to fresh-from-the-farm produce Eva McCall Hamilton was far, far ahead of the curve when, in 1912, she began a campaign to abolish ordinances that prohibited farmers from selling direct to customers Five years later, three farmer’s markets were established in Grand Rapids And is there anyone here who has not enjoyed the bounty available at the “East Side” or Fulton Street Farmer’s Market? It was established in 1922 During that same period, Hamilton worked to enact the Mothers’ Pension Act, which provided funds for mothers who had lost sons in World War I Hamilton, nominated by the Republican Party for what was then Kent County’s 16th District State Senate seat, served only one term but continued to work ahead of her time in seeking a bill that did not find purchase until years later It required applicants for a marriage license to supply proof that they were free of sexually transmitted diseases at a time when a woman would not have felt free to ask her partner to provide such assurance That requirement is no longer in force in Michigan but it served a valuable purpose at the time While in the Senate, she served on five committees– banks and corporations, taxation, normal schools, insurance, and industrial schools, which she chaired She is frequently recognized for her work on Senator Elmer McArthur’s bill to reform the Michigan Mothers’ Pension Act in order to provide public funds to maintain underprivileged children in their homes to avoid their being sent to institutions McCall Hamilton was not only the first woman to be elected to the Michigan State legislature, she is the first and only woman to be elected as a Senator from Grand Rapids We have some work to do (audience laughing) Grace Van Hoesen, born in 1870, was active in the Suffrage Movement, the war effort, and local politics for all of her adult life As a single woman, she worked as a bookkeeper to support herself Her service to the local community included the YWCA As the last President of the Grand Rapids Suffrage Association, Grace was a founding organizer and active member of the League of Women Voters from its 1921 beginning In a history of the League, “First Fifty Years,” Dorothy Judd writes, quote, “The League’s first interest “in the structure of government “stemmed from peculiarly women’s concerns “As a housewife, the League member wanted government “to be economical “As a mother, she wanted better government services “for her family “As a new voter, “she wanted a shorter ballot so that she might be able “to make choices more intelligently.” Out of that premise, the League embraced the three Rs for testing the shape of government It must, they determined, be representative, responsible, and responsive Grace ran for the school board in 1915 and again in 1919 but was not elected She stood for election to the Grand Rapids City Commission in 1923, but was again defeated That was an office not to be occupied by a woman until 1961 She did, however, attract a great deal of attention about the novelty of a woman running for a municipal seat You see in this slide the headline announcing her defeat next to another photo of Grace– she’s second from the left in that photo– urging citizens to vote I think the message from Grace is, “If at first you don’t succeed.” (sounds of approval from audience) In 1928, Grace co-authored a book for the League, “Our City Government.” And it was distributed to citizens and used in local high schools, and then an updated revision was published in 1931 On the national level, Grace chaired the industrial committee of the Women’s Committee on the Council of National Defense during World War I

That’s the group through which thousands of women voluntarily completed registration cards listing skills that they might contribute to the war effort A collection of more than 20,000 of those cards is held by our own Grand Rapids Public Library and is one piece– it’ll be a piece of research that is explored further in the Midwestern History Association Conference on June 1 So I’m going to urge you to take a look at that conference and think about attending Take a look at this slide and see if you can spot the problem The article touts Grace Van Hoesen as the first Grand Rapids business woman to enter politics Poor Harriet Cook (audience chuckling) Apparently, her business background didn’t count In addition, Frances Turner who served on the school board in the 1890s, quote, “assumed the business management of her husband’s large real estate interests” following his death That’s according to the “Boston Woman’s Journal.” (audience laughing) Don’t you love it? This is an inset of that photo? (audience laughing) (general chatter) In 1930, at the age of 60, when she might have rested on her laurels and as the United States was plunged into the Great Depression, Grace Van Hoesen was nominated and won a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, the first woman to hold that office You see her in this cropped photo and in the full photo displayed to my right, courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library She looks, I think, just a little bit pleased with herself (audience laughing) She’s trying not to smile The next election of a women to the County Board did not occur until 46 years later when Aggie Kempker-Cloyd and Carol Landheer Kooistra were elected in 1976 Marge Byington Potter was the first woman to chair the County Commission in 1986 Evangeline Lamberts finally shattered the glass ceiling into the City Commission in 1961 That was just two years before Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” set fire to second-wave feminism By virtue of her seat on the Commission, Lamberts also served on the County Board of Supervisors Vangie, as she was known, is described by Vernis Schad in a December 2015 “Grand Rapids Press” article as, quote, “an astute politician “She was not afraid of making decisions “that might not be all that acceptable “Some people looked on her as a pretty aggressive, “assertive “In the end, she was well-respected,” end quote Lamberts came to the commission with a history of support for women’s issues and activism through her work with the League of Women Voters in Grand Rapids, where she served as President in 1957 Bright and hard-working, Lamberts is also remembered, rather less favorably, for her attempt with fellow Second Ward Commissioner, Robert Jamo, to block the sale of property in the previously all-white Auburn Hills area to four African-American men Led by Dr. Julius Franks in 1962, the four men wished to buy a 20-acre tract of land where they and others could buy homes Lamberts and Jamo opposed Mayor Stanley Davis, the City Attorney, and their fellow commissioners, in the months before the two of them were facing a primary election They responded instead to the White Citizens Committee which fueled fears of reduced housing values should the sale take place As some of you will remember, the commissioners ultimately lost that fight, and the sale of land was approved Lamberts continued to serve until 1965 The events surrounding Auburn Hills may have been a part of the catalyst for a 1965 housing study by the League of Women Voters through which a recommendation was made to, quote, “promote freedom of residence “with methods of encouraging nonwhites “to take advantage of that freedom

“by the establishment of neighborhood associations “and human relations commissions “in outlying areas to facilitate good relationships.” This quote from Lambert’s daughter that you see, uh, the author– her daughter is the author M.L. Rowland– and if you’re a mystery fan, you may have read some of her mysteries They’re actually quite good This gives us a picture of what Lamberts was up against– “She used to complain “that after every Board of Supervisors’ meeting, “she would have to have her suit dry-cleaned “because all of the men there smoked cigars (audience chuckling) “When I was older, “she told me how men’s wives often shunned her, “possibly because they felt threatened by her, “because they were afraid she was going to steal “their husbands away.” (audience laughing) Through the early ’70s, women running for and elected to office in Grand Rapids were mostly white, middle-class, often had some formal education, and they were women either of independent means or they were supported by a spouse But as early as 1951, we see women of color running for office after decades of activism to achieve civil rights in neighborhoods, employment, schools, and the social fabric of Grand Rapids Members of the Grand Rapids Study Club, pictured here, served as catalysts for civil rights activism The first woman of color to be elected was Dr. Linda Johnson in 1977, when she was elected to the Board of Education There is a great deal to say about the African-American woman’s experience– and that of all women of color– in the elective history of Grand Rapids It is an area that we will continue to examine, again, in our presentation on June 1 at the Midwestern History Association Conference at Grand Valley You see here a list of some of the first women of color to be elected to each of the offices– Linda– I was unable to get a good photo of Linda, but you have Linda Johnson, Ellen James, Candace Chivis, and Senita Lenear (applause) Clearly, there is just much work to be done to insure inclusive representation from among women of color At a time when women are shattering glass ceilings at an unprecedented rate, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss has shattered the city’s thickest glass ceiling We know that it is less important to Rosalynn that she is the first woman to be elected mayor in Grand Rapids than that people see her as a mayor who can lead the city to create opportunities for a broad range of citizens– one that’s diverse and inclusive Rosalynn wants to lead a city that, as Grace Van Hoesen prescribed through the League of Women Voters, is streamlined, economically sound, and that will continue to place Grand Rapids at the top of the lists of best places to live Some 166 years after Henry Williams became the first mayor of Grand Rapids, Mayor Bliss’s election seems to have been part of an organic process Prior to her bid and win, several women entered the race for mayor, but most received only a nod from voters The first was Mary Jane Morris, a local attorney, in 1973 In 1975, Second Ward Commissioner, Sharon Worst, came the closest to a viable candidacy after serving 10 years on the City Commission As you know, Rosalynn served the City of Grand Rapids as a commissioner for the Second Ward since 2005 She has been active across the community as she has served to address domestic violence, children’s issues, improved government, economic development, and local services Mayor Bliss is here and has agreed to share a few words with us Rosalynn? Thank you! (applause) >> This is so humbling to be with you tonight And I’m so glad that this picture is up here, because one of the women who first nudged me and put the bug in my ear to run for office back in 2005

was Karen Henry, and you can see her in this picture This picture is from my very first election, election night over 10 years ago So this is really a– it just makes me really happy that this picture is in this slide So I’m really grateful to be here tonight and just a couple things I was asked to say a few words First, I am unbelievably grateful for every single woman that came before me, that helped pave the path What a beautiful job just capturing this history So, thank you for that And you know, I’m just so honored and so grateful not just for everyone that paved the way for me to be successful in this role, but also for all the women that supported me to get to where I am today If you look at that picture, it was largely– not all– but it was a large group of women who encouraged me, who supported me, who walked with me, who helped me raise money, who believed in me the very first time that I ran for office, and even when I ran for mayor It was women who stepped up, again and again, to supported me and who were there for me And we do have a lot of work to do I can’t state that– I think it’s an understatement We have a ton of work to do to get more women appointed into positions and more women elected to office So we cannot– we just can’t stop We can’t stop encouraging women We can’t stop supporting women We can’t stop identifying women that we think would be great leaders, and telling them that we are with them We are with them as they begin this journey Because I can tell you, running for office– it’s a risk It takes courage You have to put yourself out there You have to be willing to stand up in front of a lot of people and make the case why you’re the best candidate, why people should believe in you, why people should support you, why they should go into the ballot box and circle the little dot by your name And it takes a lot of work, and I did not do it by myself I did it with this whole I sometimes think of it as this– even when I was alone, knocking on doors, I never felt alone because I had all of this energy and support and love and encouragement from the women who were right there with me every step of the way And even though Karen is no longer with me, I know that on election night when I won as mayor, her spirit was with me And it’s that kind of spirit that I really hope to continue It’s that kind of support that I want to give to other women to step up And I’m really honored to be here tonight with so many elected women from the county, my colleague, Commissioner Kelly– she has been such a supporter of mine since day one I can’t tell her enough how much I love serving with her as Second Ward City Commissioner She was one of the very first people who said to me, “You should run for mayor.” And honestly, it’s interesting this month being Women’s History Month, I’ve been able to talk to a lot of women and a lot of girls about running for office And I can tell you, many women do not self-identify as leaders We just don’t It’s somebody else telling them, “I think you’d be great “I think you should run for office.” So we all need to think about that, and we all need to identify women that we think would be great leaders and really encourage them to step up So, we have a lot of work to do, but I’m really proud to continue the hard work and the work that I know needs to be done to support women So thank you for having me here tonight Thank you to everyone who worked so hard into making this possible, so thank you (applause) >> Thank you, thank you Thank you, Rosalynn And I’m really going to repeat some of what Rosalynn said Women who are elected to office do not wake up one morning and make that decision Single-issue candidates, solo performers, contrarian candidates run, but they are generally not elected Those who are elected are in the trenches, working in community organizations of all types, including government They garner support through friendships They work on women’s issues They are inclusive, they value diversity, and they bring their sisters on the road with them They’re also interested in the environment, good government, and the economy They are coalition builders The early goals of the League of Women Voters were the same as those espoused by Mayor Bliss and her elected colleagues who are with us, and at every level–

representative, responsible, and responsive I’ve pondered how I feel about the content of an NPR interview on March 10 of this year with Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois She was talking about Hillary Clinton when she said, quote, “Women govern differently “We’re more natural consensus builders “We don’t have a problem working across the aisle “if that’s what it’s going to take to get results.” This unique elective history database for Grand Rapids seeks to offer an accurate history of women who have run for and served in elective office in Grand Rapids It’s a foundation from which the historians may respond to Bustos’ comments As close, please allow me to remind you about the June 1 Midwestern History Association Conference, to which you all in the public are invited More information is available on the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council’s website– you see the address on the slide there And with that, I really want to say thank you to all of you for being here It’s just a real honor Thanks so much (applause) I have served with an organization called Billy Bear Hug Foundation recently and– which builds in that kind of leadership for women But I know that that’s happening throughout the school systems, as well, and Rosalynn may have some very specific instances But I think we’re really trying to work at that I recently graduated again from Grand Valley, and saw it at all levels throughout Grand Valley, so I think it– you know, but as Rosalynn said, you have to tap women and say, “I think you should,” because they don’t see that They don’t self-identify >> Well, and I think– and sorry for my voice, by the way I have a cold I think we are I mean, I think we’re seeing more programs, I think we’re seeing more work being done I was just talking to some women from the Michigan Women’s Foundation I know they’re doing work around a leadership program for girls But the reality is, is that, you know, having role models in those positions– it matters It matters when– you know, we can have girls go through programs, and we can teach them, and we can encourage them, but really, having women be mentors and role models to young girls and women to step up I think is really critical So, I think every aspect of it matters, including not just the encouraging, but really being a mentor to women and girls, and encouraging them to step up And then, talking to them about their fears, like what is frightening? You know, let’s talk about what makes you nervous about this, and how do we build confidence in girls? And sometimes, even, it’s mentoring women who are already in positions of leadership Maybe they’re appointed and they’re on a board, and they’re the only woman, and maybe they’re struggling with how to speak up, or what to say, or what to do, or they don’t feel confident So, I think even once women are in a position, you can’t stop supporting them then, because it’s still a struggle, especially if they’re the only female voice around the table It can be intimidating sometimes And sometimes, women, once they’re in those positions, that network of support– they just don’t have it like they did as they got into the position And that’s a little bit from my own experience I think back when I ran for office, and I was first elected on the City Commission, I was the only female for several years And I was the youngest It was kinda like a double whammy (audience laughing) And it took me a long time to really find my feet, and to– I studied all the time, I felt like I was over-prepared I had to be over-prepared And so, it was just really important for me to reach out to people that I knew continued to support me, and have a sounding board, and have somebody to talk to, and give me advice, and just walk through the struggles I was having That is just as important for women to be successful And I’ve always said that, being the first at anything, I feel this responsibility I feel like, being the first female mayor, I have to work extra hard to make sure that there’s another woman that comes behind me, and that there’s a second, and that there’s a third, and that there’s a fourth And so, again, I take this leadership role, and I know the elected women who are here with me tonight, you take that role very seriously, because you want other women to come behind you, and so you wanna pave the way and show that women really can be effective leaders So we have– on every front, we have to be thinking about that

>> Mayor Bliss >> Yes, Ruth Ann, good to see you >> Tell everybody about the award you presented last night >> Oh, so last night, we had a City Commission meeting, and our sister cities were there, and they gave an award to a young woman named Halima for a speech that she wrote, for an essay she wrote And she wrote the essay about her mom, and it was absolutely beautiful So we have some incredible individuals who work with our sister cities, and really elevate some of our young women in our community So, thank you for that >> Rosalynn, I’m Aleicia Woodrick >> Hi >> I read or heard that you recommended that everyone might read or should read “A City Within a City.” >> I did >> Which I’ve almost finished And, you know, I look at myself, and I’m appalled at myself that I was a young mother during this period and I’m almost ashamed Lived out in Cascade and, you know, “God’s country,” whatever But I’m wondering, are we making any progress? I’m sure it’s on your– I hope it’s on your agenda >> It’s top on my agenda So the question was about– so at my “State of the City,” I highlighted a number of areas where I wanna focus my time and energy And there’s a lot of great things happening in Grand Rapids, and I wanna continue that, but we also have a number of struggles, and one of the significant issues that we have in our city is around racial disparities, and so, one of the things I asked the community to really join me in, is to start by really understanding the history, the history of our city, the African-American struggle here in our own community And so, there’s a book called “A City Within a City,” and I’ve asked the community to come alongside me and read that book It’s a powerful book– it is It’s sad, it’s heartbreaking, but I really believe that we have to understand and appreciate the history, and put our current context into a framework so that we can move forward and start to effectively address the disparities that exist in our community So we have to– (applause) (applause) So, that’s my hope If you haven’t read it, let me know– we’ll find you a book I have, I think, three more I gave out I think almost 350 copies I think I have three left in my office, but the library also has them, and the library has them on e-book, so (general chatter) And the author was here last weekend I’m hoping he’ll come back in July His name’s Todd Robinson, and he’s amazing, so– >> Should we wrap it up? >> Yeah, one more question >> Do you have any– >> Oh, Noreen! (audience laughing) >> Do you have any– not “standing”– but advice for a young woman on how to deal with male condescension or (indistinct)? >> Oh, man (audience laughing) that’s a good one, Noreen (audience laughing) (general chatter) You know, that’s such a great question (all laughing) So the question was, do I have advice for women on how they should respond if a man is condescending, or sarcastic, or disrespectful And, I’d say, unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with this, but, you know, I think it depends on who you are So, you have to find a way to respond that is– that fits with who you are, that you’re comfortable with And everyone has their own personalities, and their own styles, and so I had to find something that worked and fit for me My style is, is I– I mean, it depends a little bit on the relationship with who it is that is making the comment, but, typically, I’ve become pretty comfortable confronting it So, I remember early in my time on the City Commission, I had an individual who was extremely disrespectful to me, and I just said, “When you figure out how to speak to me “respectfully, then I will listen.” And I just walked away (applause) I just was like (applause) so Yeah And you know, those are things people don’t teach you Those are things you gotta figure out And I just– I learned over time to become really comfortable just being very direct, firm, not rude I feel like I’m able to be firm and friendly I can smile at the end (audience laughing) But it is– I think we have to demand respect, and, you know, when someone calls me a kid or a girl, I correct them I think 15 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have You know, if someone– so, I’m getting better at that, I should say (audience laughing) >> It gets easier as you get– >> It does get easier once you have experience, but I tell you, those are the things

that we need to be talking about, like, how do you? Because it can really take you off-guard I remember the first time I had someone curse at me Someone who was a peer, and I– it really took me a moment to catch my breath and figure out, “Okay, “you need to respond, and you need to respond quickly.” But those are the things that I think, hopefully someday, we won’t have to have this conversation, because that won’t be what we’re experiencing But until then, I think you have to– you have to come up with a way to respond that you feel comfortable with, but you have to respond That’s what I say I don’t care how you do it, just confront it, because we have to start confronting it And we have to do it again, and again, and again, and again, until it stops, so that the person who comes after me, doesn’t have to hear the same thing, so (applause) >> Please thank our speakers tonight, and thank you for coming (applause)