Celebrating 30 years this October, The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame has inducted more than 270 monumental and extraordinary females into their elite group.
“I have just completed my fifth year as the first paid executive director. I followed Gladys Beckwith who is one of our founders and served as the unpaid executive director, MWSA president and board member for over 40 years,” said current Executive Director Sandy Soifer. “This was a challenging role to fill, but my determination and enthusiasm was ignited by the importance of educating Michigan citizens about the role of women in our history and celebrating the accomplishments of the remarkable women — over 270 — in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.”
The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame exists thank to the work of The Michigan Women’s Studies Association, a professional organization established in 1973.
“We sponsored books, published a newsletter and created an annual conference, but our big concern was reaching out to public schools,” said Gladys Beckwith, one of the Hall of Fame founders. “We had a mission to get Michigan’s women history in the curriculum.”
Patterned after the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Fall, NY, the Michigan Hall of Fame was the first of its kind to recognize high-achieving women of an individual state.
It was decided that the organization needed a home and in the late 1970s the founding members acquired a lease from the City of Lansing on the Cooley Haze House. After raising $250,000, and bringing the house up to code, the building dedication of the Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame took place on June 10,1987. The organization still has a $1-a-year lease with the City of Lansing
With the purchase of the Cooley-Haze house in downtown Lansing, Beckwith said the Michigan Women’s Studies Association was able to expand their efforts in recognizing the achievements of Michigan women. That was when the idea for the room dedicated for accomplishments made by Michigan women was created.
“Michigan women excel in every field, there are many outstanding women that the public need to be aware of,” Beckwith said.
There are 40 different areas that the judges can place candidates under ranging from various fields.
“It’s very broad as far as the categories go,” Soifer said. “But they have one thing in common, they are remarkable women who have fought to achieve things in their work that they truly believe in.”
This year the celebration dinner will take place on Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Center.
“It’s really just a time for the women’s stories to be told,” Soifer said.
Three years ago, Hall of Fame inductee Sherrill Freeborough said she had one of the most humbling moments of her life.
“I was in such shock,” she said. “You never see yourself that way. Someone really thinks of me like that? It makes me so proud.”
Freeborough was one of only nine female Saturn owners in the industry.
“Looking back in history it’s amazing to see what women have had to go through over time. From fighting for equal rights and sacrificing themselves for freedom, it just knocks you back,” she said about being apart of the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is open for the public to visit, and Soifer’s goal is to spread the word about all that they have to offer.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame is located at 213 W. Malcolm X St., Lansing. For more info visit www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org.
Meet This Year’s Honorees
The 2013 Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame honorees in the Contemporary Category are:
ELIZABETH W. BAUER
Bauer advocates the human and legal rights of people with disabilities in Michigan, nationally, and internationally.
JUDITH LEVIN CANTOR
Cantor is a historian, author, archivist and exhibit curator dedicated to promoting Michigan’s history and to furthering awareness of the state’s significant Jewish heritage.
PAULA D. CUNNINGHAM
Cunningham was the first female president of Lansing Community College, the first female African American to Chair the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the first female president and CEO of Capitol National Bank.
DR. JOAN JACKSON JOHNSON
Affectionately known as “Triple J,” Joan Jackson Johnson is an advocate for the poor, homeless and mentally ill through her position as the director of Human Relations and Community Services for the City of Lansing.
DR. GLADYS HOLDEMAN MCKENNEY
Gladys McKenney is an advocate for women’s rights and an educator.
Marina Whitman was vice president and group executive of Public Affairs at General Motors.
The 2013 Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame honorees in the Historical Category are:
THE CON-CON ELEVEN
Of the 147 delegates at the 1961-1962 Michigan Constitutional Convention, only 11 were women — Vera Andrus of Port Huron, Ruth Gibson Butler of Houghton, Anne M. Conklin of Livonia, Katherine Moore Cushman of Dearborn, Ann Elizabeth Donnelly of Highland Park, Daisy Elizabeth Elliott of Detroit, Adelaide Julia Hart of Detroit, Lillian Hatcher of Detroit, Dorothy Leonard Judd of Grand Rapids, Ella Demmink Koeze of Grand Rapids, and Marjorie Frances McGowan of Detroit — and became known as the “Con-Con Eleven.” It was the first constitutional convention in 53 years and the first and only time women participated in the writing of Michigan’s constitution.
ELIZABETH “BESSIE” EAGLESFIELD (1853-1940) OF GRAND RAPIDS
Elizabeth Eaglesfield was Grand Rapids’ first practicing female attorney.
HARRIET QUIMBY (1875-1912) OF ARCADIA
Although her career as a pilot was brief due to a tragic airplane accident, Harriet Quimby left an indelible mark on aviation history. In 1911, Quimby was the first American woman to become a licensed pilot. In 1912, she became first woman to fly cross the English Channel.
The Philip A. Hart Award is presented annually to a male citizen who has demonstrated a unique understanding and support of women’s issues This year’s recipient is Daniel Krichbaum, former Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
More information about the honorees or tickets to the event are available at www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org or by calling (517) 484-1880 x203.