Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 18, 2010

History project gives women a voice

Members uncover pasts of local ladies

By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Ten years in action means it's time to celebrate.

Founded in 2000, members of the Women's History Project of Northwest Michigan have spent the decade preserving and recognizing women's contributions to their families and communities. Capturing oral histories — 50 and counting so far — continues to be a key activity.

The group's trained interviewers meticulously document the lives of women, from community leaders to average women. The idea is that everybody has a story, and all women have had an impact that should be recorded.

"The whole idea is that women through time everywhere and certainly in Traverse City have always been a key to the success of the community because women are strong and women carry the values," said Ann Hoopfer, of Suttons Bay, a founding member.

The idea was to give women a voice — sometimes even a name — that had been missing.

"We had found that when we were working with the Pioneer and Historical Society, it was always very difficult to find out anything about the women, the wives of the men who were the early movers and shakers of Traverse City," Hoopfer said. "It was quite frustrating — all you could read was, 'Mrs. Thomas Bates or Mrs. Perry Hannah,' and it was a miracle if you could even find out the woman's first name."

The nonprofit organization, which is based at the newly renamed History Center of Traverse City*, also offers exhibits and presentations on various aspects of women's lives. This month, the group filled a display case at Traverse Area District Library's Woodmere facility with a variety of women's shoes, showcasing fashion and function through the years. Another display at the History Center features aprons, an iconic feminine accessory for many years.

The Women's History Project also has partnered the past few years with Northwestern Michigan College's Phi Theta Kappa chapter and the American Association of University Women to co-sponsor an event during Women's History Month. In March, they present a play on women: In 2009 it was on First Ladies, and this year it offers a historic reenactment of the first U.S. women's rights convention.

"Involving college students is truly inter-generational," said Tina Tank, who noted that the Women's History Project also maintains a library of women's history books at their headquarters.

New board member Nancy Bordine has been involved with the group for years and shares her extensive collection of women's historical clothing with the group for various projects. While recognizing that women have made great strides during her lifetime, she believes there is still a long way to go.

"Women haven't been seen as contributors to the workings of the world other than from the hearth, and so I think it is really important that women's history gets recorded and celebrated and honored," Bordine said.

For more information on the Women's History Project of Northwest Michigan, see