The Michigan Women’s Studies Association (MWSA), an academic professional organization, was founded in 1973 on the campus of Michigan State University to change what is thought and taught about women, particularly Michigan women, in schools, colleges, and universities. As an extension of that mission, the organization decided to establish a museum dedicated to women’s history: the first of its kind in the nation.
To house the museum, MWSA acquired a lease on the city-owned Cooley-Haze House in 1980 on the condition that the building be brought up to code. By 1986, $180,000 had been raised in building funds and work was begun on the renovation.
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame was dedicated and opened to the public on June 10, 1987, the anniversary date of Michigan’s ratification of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment. Since the opening, the Historical Center has encouraged Lansing’s efforts to restore Cooley Gardens, and is 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 of Michigan women and maintains a library of materials on this subject. The Center is also home to the Belen Gallery in which the work of Michigan women artists is shown. Its Friends group serves as a source of volunteers and as a fundraising organization, its primary benefit being the “Picnic on the Lawn” in June.
Every October, an MWSA benefit honors new inductees to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Between eight and twelve women, past and present, are welcomed into the Hall each year. Plaques honoring those women are displayed in the Historical Center’s Hall of Fame Gallery. Past honorees include former Lieutenant Governor Connie Binsfeld, Grace Lee Boggs, Betty Ford, Aretha Franklin, Gwen Frostic, Former Governor Jennifer Granholm, Rosa Parks, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Helen Thomas, Lily Tomlin, and Mother Waddles.
In addition to overseeing the museum, the Michigan Women’s Studies Association periodically sponsors an academic conference to bring more visibility to women’s roles in history and current issues in women’s studies. MWSA has also published an anthology, Historic Women of Michigan; an educational resource packet called “How the Suffragists Changed Michigan”; and Michigan Women: Firsts and Founders, Volumes I and II, as well as several smaller publications.
Click here for a list of inductees.