September 16, 2019

Women at capitol to be topic at historical society


Au GRES — Several women who played vital roles in the Michigan State Capitol building will be discussed by capitol Historian and Curator Valerie Marvin at the Arenac County Historical Society Thursday, July 11.

“(Marvin) was here last year and talked about the history of the state capitol, how it was built and how it has changed over the years,” historical society Chairwoman Sandy Proulx said. “This program is about the women of capitol.”

Proulx said she wanted Marvin to return because her presentation last year was a success and she wanted to give another one of her programs a try.

“It’s Valerie’s idea,” she said. “The program is based on the importance of women and how this has helped develop women’s rights.”

Marvin said she has been speaking about this topic, which was inspired by capitol tours she gave to third-graders, for about three years now.

“I was shocked how many times I was asked on a school tour if a woman could be governor,” she said. “I realized how many children didn’t know women could actually work in the capitol. Then I decided to take a step back and say, ‘OK, who has worked here historically?’ Because adults certainly also have this idea when our building opened in 1879 that women weren’t working here.”

Marvin said this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“When our capitol building opened up, as best we can tell, there were probably between 30 and 40, maybe even 45 women who worked in the building.”

Marvin said this was out of around 200 people total, excluding legislators, who didn’t work in the building often. At the time, all other positions worked in the capitol building together, including the governor, supreme court justices and so on, she said.

Her speech, which usually lasts about an hour, will discuss several women, starting with Harriet Tenney, who served as Michigan’s first state librarian from 1869 to 1891.

Tenney’s position required her to work with courts, selecting books used to develop policies and laws in the state, Marvin said.

“Even though she was not voting, even though she had no ability to be elected or run for office herself at the time, she is still affecting state policy,” she said. “So I find that fascinating.”

Another woman to be discussed is Eva McCall Hamilton of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s first woman to be elected as a state senator.

“She was probably proud and nervous to be the first woman lawmaker here in Michigan,” Marvin said.

Hamilton was watched, from the way she dressed and conducted herself to the committees she served on, she said.

“She was very much an object of curiosity,” Marvin said.

Marvin said other women will be discussed as well, with the presentation ending around the time of World War II.

“There are a lot of great stories post-WWII,” she said. “But you have to end somewhere.”

Marvin said she has been considering doing a second part to this program in the future.

As far as why she does this program, Marvin said women in history helped establish future positions.

“Inevitably the response I get at the end is people saying, ‘I had no idea. That’s amazing,’” she said. “The truth is we don’t tell these stories very often because they are forgotten.”

Proulx said she is looking forward to the presentation, adding that the historical society offers summer programs every year, with five this year.

The most recent program was about author Mark Twain’s time spent in Michigan, she said.

“Michigan has numerous amounts of wonderful history,” Proulx said. “So we like to promote that.”

The Iosco-Arenac District Library helps fund the summer programs.

The Women of the Michigan State Capitol program is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the museum, located at 304 E. Michigan Ave., Au Gres.For more information, call 989-329-2862.


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