Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

November 2, 2009

Women helped build Traverse City

Early clubs lobbied for schools, clean water, reforestation, libraries, hospital

TRAVERSE CITY -- Mystery surrounds their names:

Mrs. A.S. Roberts, M.K. Buck, Mrs. B.D. Ashton, Mrs. J.W. Milliken, Mrs. J.T. Milliken, Mrs. Hatch, Ada K. Sprague Pratt, Mrs. William Love, Clymene Cole Bates, M.E.C. Bates.

Who were they and what did they do to get on the very exclusive list of Traverse City's early women trailblazers and community builders?

For the most part, these women and others were educated, white and married to successful lumber-era businessmen, lawyers, doctors, merchants, manufacturers, newspaper publishers and civic leaders.

They helped build Traverse City's library system, schools and hospital. They lobbied for clean water and clean streets. They were concerned about the needy, child labor, reforestation, international peace and the right of women to vote.

They did this largely through two local women's clubs -- the Ladies Library Association and the Traverse City Woman's Club.

The Ladies Library Association was founded in 1869 by eight women called together by Clymene Bates, wife of Grand Traverse Herald publisher Morgan Bates, when Traverse City was still an isolated village of 1,245. The other founding members were identified only as "Mrs. Ashton, Mrs. M.E.C. Bates, Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Fuller, Mrs. Sam Arnold, Misses Mina Leach and Mary Knizek."

The Library Association marked many successes over several decades. Enthusiastic fundraising and donations in the 1870s enabled the association to purchase property and construct a wood-frame building at what is today 205 E. Front St. near Cass Street.

It stayed there until 1909, when it moved into a new brick building on Cass Street next to the city hall on the southwest corner of Cass and State streets. When it closed in 1940, it had 5,413 volumes.

Traverse City Woman's Club

The Ladies Library Association, the Traverse City Woman's Club founded in 1891 and the Grand Traverse Federation of Women's Clubs organized in 1910 were part of what historians call the Women's Club Movement, which started at the end of the Civil War and continued up to World War II.

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