Historical Highlights

The Michigan Women's Studies Association, an academic-professional organization, was founded in 1973 on the campus of Michigan State University.  Their goal was to change what is thought and taught about women's role in history, particularly Michigan women, in our public schools and at the college level.

In February of 1976, anticipating the need for a broadening role and mission in community education, MWSA was formally reconstituted as a non-profit corporation and granted 501(c)3 tax exempt status thereafter.

In 1980, following almost a year of planning, MWSA acquired a lease on the Cooley-Haze House from the City of Lansing on the condition that the building be brought up to code and be fully renovated for adaptive use as the site of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame.

By February of 1986, approximately $180,000 had been raised in building funds and work began in the summer of 1986 on the renovation.

The Center was dedicated and opened to the public on June 10, 1987, the anniversary date of the Michigan ratification of the Women's Suffrage Amendment. Since the opening, we have encouraged the city of Lansing's efforts to restore the Cooley Gardens, and we are now surrounded by a beautiful garden and picnic area.

The Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame displays cultural and historical exhibits on the accomplishments and achievements of Michigan women.  The Center is also home of the Belen Gallery in which the work of Michigan artists and photographers is shown.  The Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame has drawn encouragement and support from across the state. Benefits have been organized and support groups formed in a number of different communities, including Escanaba and Marquette in the Upper Peninsula, Muskegon, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in the western reaches of the state, and in Saginaw, Grosse Pointe, Birmingham and Detroit as well as Lansing.

In October of 1983, the First Annual Awards Dinner for the new Michigan Women's Hall of Fame was held in Dearborn at the Fairlane Manor. This event was attended by over 700 friends and supporters, men as well as women, and of all different race and origin. Participating in the program in honor of the distinguished Michigan women who were inducted into the Hall of Fame that evening were such state leaders as Secretary of State Richard Austin, former Governor George Romney, First Lady Paula Blanchard, Chief Justice G. Mennen Williams and Justice James H. Brickley of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Honorable Wade McCree, Jr., former Solicitor General Fishman, and others equally prominent. The success of this first evening of awards was subsequently repeated in February of 1985, also in Dearborn, and each year thereafter alternating between Southeast Michigan and Lansing.  The Michigan Women's Hall of Fame Gallery currently displays over 200 distinguished women including Rosa Parks, Helen Milliken, Betty Ford, Patricia Hill Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Dorothy Comstock Riley, Mother Waddles, Sippie Wallace, Jean "The Queen" Steinberg, Helen Thomas,and former Lieutetnant Governor Connie Binsfeld, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Aretha Franklin, and Governor Jennifer Granholm, who have been inducted since 1983.

Organizations, businesses and private foundations have also contributed greatly to the current development program. Among the major contributors have been the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, the United Automobile Workers, the Michigan Division of the American Association of University Women, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, the Women's Coordinating Committee of Grand Rapids, the Junior League of Lansing, and the Tri-City (Saginaw, Midland and Bay City) Friends of the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. The Kmart Corporation, the Ford Motor Company, the General Motors Corporation, and the Automobile Club of Michigan, along with other major corporations, have been equally supportive.

The Gannett Newspaper Foundation, the Greater Lansing Foundation, and the Ford Motor Company Fund have also made major contributions to the project. In addition, the project has received special grant funding from the Board of Commissioners of Ingham County, the State of Michigan, The Michigan Humanities Council and the City of Lansing, the latter having made a trust fund amounting to in excess of sixty thousand dollars available for building renovation purposes on a dollar per dollar matching basis.

Since the opening of the Center, the establishment of the Friends of the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame has been a significant source of support of both volunteer effort and operating funds. The Friends Association has grown to 450 members. It is our hope that this group will grow to 1000 individuals and organizations who will support the Center annually.

The Center has published an anthology, Historic Women of Michigan, edited by Rosalie Riegle Troester; an educational resource packet, "How the Suffragist Changed Michigan;" and Michigan Women: Firsts and Founders Volume I and II by Betty MacDowell and Rachel Brett Harley, and several smaller publications.

The Center has changing exhibits and sponsors many events such as the "Picnic on the Lawn" in June.  The "Picnic" is one of our major fundraisers for the year and brings together friends for a fun-filled evening of food, entertainment and conversation.  The Center also pays tribute to mothers on Mother's Day by sending cards and gifts for individuals for a small price.

The Michigan Women's Studies Association, our parent organization, also sponsors an academic conference each spring on the campus of a university or college to bring more visibility of women's role in history current issues in women's studies.