Michigan Women’s Spotlight: Eva McCall Hamilton

Did you know that the first woman to become a state elected official in Michigan was Eva McCall Hamilton in 1920? During the first election in which women were allowed to vote, Hamilton was elected as Michigan state senator for the 16th District — by a two-to-one margin.

This month marks the 96th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — which guarantees American women the right to vote.

Eva HamiltonThe amendment was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919 and by the Senate two weeks later — sending it to the states to be ratified. Less than a week later, on June 10, Michigan was one of the first states to ratify the amendment.  However, it would take more than a year for three-fourths of the states to approve the measure. That historic moment came when Tennessee passed it by a single vote on Aug. 18, 1920. Having met the final hurdle, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26.

Sen. Eva McCall Hamilton was born on Dec. 13, 1871 in Memphis, Michigan and would become a teacher.

Throughout her life, Hamilton also served on local, state and national committees focused on encouraging women to partake in civic affairs. However, it would not be until 1910, when she held the reins of a large horse-drawn “Float for Suffragists” followed by 75 local suffragists in decorated cars in the Grand Rapids Annual Homecoming Parade, that she would become widely known throughout the state.

By 1912, Hamilton would earn the recognition of being just one of three Grand Rapids women who had mailed out an astonishing six tons of “votes for women” literature. Exemplary achievements such as these would eventually help Hamilton become the leader of the Grand Rapid’s women’s suffrage movement.

As a Republican senator in 1921-22, Hamilton successfully proposed and passed bills to fund pay raises for teachers and worked to reform the Michigan Mother’s Pension Act.

As a result of Sen. Hamilton’s dedication to the betterment of both the state and women’s rights, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012. A portrait of Hamilton is on display in the Senate Chamber.

Michigan Women’s Spotlight: Harriet Quimby

Did you know that the first licensed female pilot in the United States, Harriet Quimby, was born in Michigan?

Born to William and Ursula Quimby on May 11, 1875 “somewhere in Michigan” near Arcadia, Harriet Quimby was a modern woman during a not-so modern era. In an age before women’s suffrage, Harriet was a pioneer in challenging the social status quo by stepping outside of traditional societal roles.

A romanticist and an adventure seeker, Harriet moved to California during her teenage years. She tried her hand in acting, journalism and eventually piloting — once her writing career gave her the freedom, financial backing and exposure to pursue her desires of travel and adventure.

While writing for Leslie’s Illustrated in New York, Harriet would go on to meet and befriend American pilot John Moisant, who she covered during New York’s Belmont Air Meet in October of 1910. Moisant, who owned a school for aviation, began teaching Harriet the finer points of flying until his tragic death only a few short months later in December 1910.

By May 1911, Harriet — who enthusiastically believed flying “looked quite easy” — had convinced her editor that Leslie’s should pay for her flying lessons and in return she would chronicle her experience for the magazine’s readers.

As a result of this agreement, Harriet would become the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license: License #37 on Aug. 1, 1911 — sanctioned by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and administered by the Aero Club of America.

In addition to becoming the first woman pilot to be licensed, Harriet also become the first woman to fly over the English Channel and today a historical marker can be found in her honor near the now-abandoned farmhouse in Arcadia Township where Quimby was born.

Michigan Women’s Spotlight: Candice Miller

Blog - Candice Miller_16Did you know that the first Michigan statewide elected official to ever achieve a margin of victory of more than 1 million votes was Candice Miller?

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller began her career in public service in 1979 when she served on the Harrison Township Board of Trustees in Macomb County. She would go on in 1980 to become the first woman ever elected Harrison Township supervisor. After 12 years as supervisor, she was elected Macomb County treasurer in 1992.

In 1994, Miller ran a historic campaign for Michigan secretary of state, defeating six-term incumbent Richard Austin to become the first woman elected to that position in Michigan. She was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1998. She won every county in the state and tallied a historic margin of victory: 1 million votes!

As secretary of state, Miller improved the quality of service at secretary of state branch offices; implemented a statewide uniform voting system; and ensured that Michigan had free, fair and open elections.

Following her two successful terms, Miller ran for Congress in Michigan’s 10th District in 2002. After being elected, she quickly rose to prominent roles in Washington and now serves as chairwoman of the Committee of House Administration and vice-chairwoman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Currently, she is the only woman in the House to serve as a chair of a committee.

As chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration, Miller and her fellow committee members are tasked with oversight of federal elections and the day-to-day operations of the House. One of Miller’s major accomplishments through her influential position was to end the practice of taxpayer dollars funding political party conventions. She was able to redirect the funds to pediatric research.

According to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center, Miller is only the third woman in Michigan to have been elected to both state government and the U.S. Congress.

Miller announced last year that she would retire from Congress at the conclusion of her seventh term. In recognition of her historic achievements and her national leadership, Miller was inducted into the Michigan Women of Fame in 2015.

Michigan Women’s Spotlight: Remembering Connie Binsfeld

Womens History - Connie BinsfeldDid you know that Connie Binsfeld was the first woman in Michigan to hold leadership posts in Michigan’s House, Senate and Executive Branch?

Born in 1924 in Munising, Michigan, Connie Binsfeld had an extraordinary career serving the state of Michigan in many different posts. After graduating from Siena Heights College, she married and settled with her family near Detroit, where she taught high school history and government. Soon after relocating with her family to Leelanau County, she headed a citizens’ council to assist in planning the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore. This was the beginning of a long career in public service.

Binsfeld was elected in 1974 to the Michigan House of Representatives, where she would serve four terms. She would go on to serve two terms in the Michigan Senate. During her time in the Legislature, she was known for tackling domestic violence and standing up for the environment.

During the 1990 election cycle, Senate Majority Leader and Republican gubernatorial candidate John Engler selected Binsfeld as his running mate. She would become Michigan’s 60th lieutenant governor in 1991. During her two terms as lieutenant governor, Binsfeld headed the Binsfeld Children’s Commission, which investigated issues related to adoption and the child welfare system. Her work on the commission resulted in 197 reforms and 20 laws relating to policy recommendations.

She earned many honors throughout her career, including Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters from Notre Dame, Northern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and other prestigious institutions of higher learning. In 1998, she was named to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Of all her accolades, she was most proud to be selected as Michigan Mother of the Year in 1977.

Binsfeld passed away on Jan. 12, 2014 in Glen Lake, Michigan. The positive effects of her long career in public service are still felt today throughout Michigan. From protecting the Sleeping Bear Dunes to fighting domestic violence, Connie Binsfeld left a positive mark on the state she served for generations to come.

Michigan Women’s History Spotlight: Joan L. Wolfe

Did you know that on this day 39 years ago, a major state commission in Michigan had its first female chairperson?

Born in 1929, Joan L. Wolfe was an extraordinary Michigan woman who became one of the most impactful environmentalists in our state’s history. After receiving an appointment from Gov. William Milliken to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in 1973, she became the chair of the commission in 1977. Wolfe was the first woman in the nation to serve on a state’s natural resources committee.

Alongside her accomplishment of becoming the first woman to chair a major state commission, Wolfe also founded the West Michigan Environmental Action Council in 1968, became a member of the first Natural Resources Trust Fund Board, was a part of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Electric Energy Alternatives, and played a major role in the passage of the landmark Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Wolfe, alongside her husband Willard, was also instrumental in the effort to pass Michigan’s Inland Lakes and Streams Act of 1972.

She was one of the eight honorees in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014. She was also the recipient of an honorary Doctorate in Public Service from Western Michigan University.

In light of January being National Mentoring Month, we would be remiss to not acknowledge Wolfe’s work in volunteerism. Wolfe authored Making Things Happen: How to be an Effective Volunteer, which provides an assessment of volunteerism and outlines the basic skills that volunteers need to make a stronger impact.

Joan L. Wolfe was a pioneer for women’s expanded role in Michigan government whose service to the state of Michigan should never be forgotten. She made a positive impact on the state of Michigan while changing attitudes about the role of women in government.