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.