Hall of Fame History/Process
In October 1983, 700 people gathered in
a ballroom at the Fairlane Manor in Dearborn to witness a momentous occasion.
Two former governors were in attendance as well as First Lady Paula Blanchard,
the secretary of state, and a sitting justice from the Michigan Supreme Court.
Their eyes, and those of the rest of the esteemed attendees, were trained on a
procession of women making a dramatic entrance and taking their seats on the
dais. Such was the atmosphere at the first induction ceremony and dinner of the
Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame (MWHOF).
The MWHOF was a brainchild of the
Michigan Women’s Studies Association (MWSA), a professional organization of
academicians concerned about what was being thought and taught about women in
the state’s schools, colleges, and universities. “It was a natural extension of
our work in the classroom,” explained an MWSA founder and then-Michigan State
University professor Gladys Beckwith, “and another means of disseminating
information about Michigan women, past and present.”
Patterned after the National Women’s
Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, the Michigan Hall was the first of its
kind to recognize high-achieving women of an individual state. A woman’s ties
to Michigan could take one of three forms: she could be born in this state,
rise to prominence here, or live in Michigan for an extended period after
achieving prominence elsewhere.
Organizers for the Michigan Women’s Hall
of Fame insisted that the nomination process be democratic: that is, anyone,
anywhere could suggest a possible honoree by filling out and submitting a
standard form capsulizing that woman’s accomplishments. The forms would then be
sent to two panels of judges—one for historical nominations and one for
contemporary nominations—of women and men from all walks of life and all parts
of the state.
After those judges scored each
candidate, their tally sheets would be tabulated by an independent accounting
firm. The nomination forms for the top 25 nominees in each category would then
be sent on to a second set of judges for their review.
At the beginning, the developers of the
MWHOF weren’t sure how successful this process would be. “There was so little
written about our state’s women at the time,” said Beckwith, “that we had no
idea how many would be worthy of induction.” As it turned out, the first crop
of nominations was both large and extraordinarily accomplished, leading to a
large and extraordinarily accomplished inaugural class of inductees.
At the first induction ceremony and
dinner held October 20, 1983 in Dearborn, 18 women were recognized, among them
Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth), a former slave who became a nationally
known crusader for human rights; Anna Howard Shaw, a minister and physician who
succeeded Susan B. Anthony in leading the National American Women’s Suffrage
Association; and Lucinda Hinsdale Stone, the state’s foremost spokesperson for
co-education during the last half of the 19th century and founder of the
women’s club movement in Michigan. Among the contemporary inductees were Martha
Griffiths, a congresswoman, primary sponsor of the ERA in that body, and first
woman elected lieutenant governor in Michigan; and Rosa Parks, often called the
mother of the modern civil rights movement.
In 1984, a second class was selected;
the following year, a formal dinner recognized both the 1984 and 1985 honorees.
The induction ceremony has been held without fail every year since.
The number of nominations to the MWHOF
was substantial at the beginning, with each community rushing to recognize the
most important women in their history. Today about 100 nominations are received
each year, including “resubmits” of past nominees. The number of honorees has
flexed in and out over the years as well; from a high of 18 in 1983, the
average today is 10-12 inductees per year. “As each honoree is given an
extensive introduction at the ceremony—with living honorees encouraged to give
an acceptance speech—we’ve learned to pare down the inductee class size,” said
Today’s Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame
contains nearly 300 inductees. Some are “firsts” or “founders;” that is, they
were the first females to assume a particular role of leadership, such as
Michigan’s first female U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, or the founders of new
entities like Bina West Miller, who established the first life insurance
company for women. Another category of women are considered experts in their
fields: for instance, Catherine Carter Blackwell is a recognized authority on
African history and culture. And many inductees are Michigan’s proud
representatives on a national stage. An example of this is Lily Tomlin, whose
creative abilities have earned her two Tonys, six Emmys, a Grammy, two Peabody
Awards, and an Academy Award nomination.
Biographical information and photographs
of each inductees may be found at WEBSITE and a commemorative plaque for each
woman is located in a special gallery within the Michigan Women’s Historical
Center & Hall of Fame in Lansing. The development of this museum, the only
museum in Michigan solely dedicated to Michigan women’s history, features
history exhibits, a gift shop, a library, and a public meeting space.
Speaking to the long-term impact of the
Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, Beckwith mused: “Even those of us who had taught
in the field were surprised to discover all the capable, courageous, and
accomplished women associated with our state. And each year—through the Hall of
Fame nomination process—we uncover more.
“The Hall of Fame has enabled us to
write women back into history,” she continued, “providing inspiring role models
for girls and women as well as a fuller picture of our state’s history for all