She is currently working on a Master’s of Library and Information Science and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration from Wayne State University.
Fran is a Museum Administrator for Michigan Women Forward, HERStory (formerly Michigan Women's Historical Center) in Lansing, MI.
Could you tell us a bit about the Michigan Women Forward, HERStory organization? It’s mission and vision?
The Michigan Women’s Historical Center was founded by the Michigan Women’s Studies Association in 1987 at the Cooley-Haze House in Lansing. It was the first museum in the country dedicated to women’s history (even pre-dating the National Women’s History Museum!) and remains the only museum of its kind in Michigan today. The Historical Center housed rotating exhibits on various topics in Michigan women’s history, cared for a robust donated artifact collection, and was the home of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, which has inducted a new class of incredible Michigan women every year since 1983.
In March of 2018 the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame merged with the Michigan Women’s Foundation of Detroit. Together the two organizations rebranded to become Michigan Women Forward, the museum’s official title becoming Michigan Women Forward, HERStory. The mission and vision of MWF is to accelerate Michigan’s progress by advancing equality and opportunity for women and girls, striving towards a Michigan where women are recognized leaders who thrive, contribute and uplift the state’s future. HERStory’s role in this is to honor the achievements of Michigan women past and present through our exhibits, educational programs, and Hall of Fame.
Over the years Michigan Women Forward/HERStory has developed several resources, including How the Suffragists Changed Michigan and Historic Women of Michigan. Could you tell us a bit about these resources?
One of the main focuses of this organization has always been educating about women’s history. How the Suffragists Changed Michigan was a packet of curated educational materials perfect for classroom or educational program use. The packet included written histories, copies of primary documents, and posters related to the suffrage movement in Michigan. The materials encouraged engagement with the primary resources and included fliers on different ways to teach historical interpretation skills. We continue to use this wonderful resource in our own educational programs on suffrage here at the museum.
Historic Women of Michigan was an anthology intended to shed light on some of the most influential women in Michigan’s history, published by the Michigan Women’s Studies Association at a time when women’s history was not something taught in schools, or even commonly heard about. Continuing in this educational vein, the museum’s gift shop currently stocks a plethora of books on topics in Michigan women’s history, ranging from academic monographs to commercial histories and children’s books.
|Michigan Women Forward, HERStory|
One of the stated qualifications for entrance into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame is “contributions made of an enduring nature to the social, cultural, economic, or political wellbeing of the community, state, or nation.” If ever a woman comes to mind who fits this bill, it is Sojourner Truth. The power of her enduring legacy makes her just as much of an influential figure now as she was over a century ago when she was alive. Born into slavery in New York, Truth later embarked on an unrelenting national campaign in support of both abolition and women’s rights, becoming a leading influential figure in both movements. Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” masterfully presents the intersectionality of sexism and racism inherent to the identity of black women that is still relevant today. It was this enduring legacy of her activism for human rights that caused her to be included among the inaugural class of Hall of Fame inductees.
Would you name a few other inductees into the Michigan Hall of Fame that particularly resonate with you? How about other women from Michigan who have been influential in the civil rights movement?
There are dozens of incredible women in the Hall of Fame who were influential figures in the civil rights movement. A few that particularly resonate with me are Rosa Slade Gragg, who was presented with the pen used by President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for her contributions to the civil rights movement; Nellie Cuellar, who was an incredibly influential activist and organizer for local African-American communities in Michigan; and Grace Lee Boggs, who was active in the Black Power and Rebuilding Detroit movements.
Two women from the 2018 Hall of Fame class, who were inducted just this past October, were/are influential in civil rights. Clara Stanton Jones, the first woman and first African American to serve as director of a major public library system, the Detroit Public Library, worked throughout her career to desegregate public libraries, and encouraged the American Library Association to pass the “Resolution on Racism and Sexism Awareness.” Kym L. Worthy is the current Wayne County prosecutor, the first woman and first African American to hold the position. She spearheaded the Detroit Rape Kit Project, in which 11,000 previously forgotten rape kits have now been tested.
|Michigan Women Forward, HERStory|
I have a soft spot for libraries. Harriet A. Tenney was the first woman to serve as the State Librarian of Michigan, as well as the first woman to work as a professional in the State Capitol building. The governor appointed her to this position in 1869, which she held for the next 22 years. Harriet obviously wasn’t allowed to vote, and yet she was the head of an entire state department! That’s rock star status to me! During her tenure she opened up the State Library to the public, grew the library’s collection six-fold, and was instrumental in the collection of Michigan artifacts that would later become the Michigan History Museum. Harriet has been nominated to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame multiple times, but has yet to be chosen. Maybe this year!
What would you say to help convince readers to visit Michigan Women Forward/HERStory?
We try to get women’s history out there in as many fun and engaging ways as we can!
1. Exhibits! Our current exhibit is on Michigan women in the STEM fields and features some of our Hall of Fame inductees. We also have traveling exhibits covering various topics in Michigan women’s history available for rent, which you can check out on our website, www.michiganwomen.org
2. Gift shop! The museum gift shop is stocked with women’s history books, Fair Trade jewelry, and feminist swag.
3. Events! We host various free events throughout the year, including speakers and public education programs. We also offer private group tours, presentations, and girl scout programs.
How about your staff position at the Michigan Women Forward/HERStory? What do you do in that capacity?
I first started with this organization as an intern in 2015. Over the next few years as I finished up college I continued to volunteer here whenever I found myself back in Lansing. I became a permanent staff member in early 2018, working as a guest assistant. Since the museum’s move back to downtown Lansing in January 2019, Riley Hubbard and I have taken on co-directorial Museum Administrator roles. My work for HERStory includes management of the collections, fielding research requests, designing and installing exhibits, event planning, outreach, and handling the Hall of Fame nomination process. A little bit of everything!
Would you share your academic background/previous experience and how it helped you in your current position?
I have my bachelor’s in History and German Studies from Kalamazoo College. Within my degree I focused heavily on women’s history in the United States, and wrote my senior thesis on the history of women’s baseball in the Midwest. I’m incredibly grateful for the background I have in academic women’s history and historical research, as it informs almost everything I do here in terms of understanding historical context and being able to answer questions.
I’m currently working on a Master’s of Library and Information Science and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration from Wayne State University. I’ve always loved historical objects and archival collections. I started out with a collections internship at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, then switched gears slightly to focus on archives after an internship at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives at Stanford University. Working with HERStory’s museum collection has been fascinating. It spans the suffrage movement, second-wave feminism, and the everyday lives of Michigan women in the past two centuries. I’m always trying to find a way to get more of our objects on exhibit for people to see. That’s always the best part of a museum in my opinion.
Why is archival work important?
Archival work is so important, and yet always gets undervalued. When I tell people I am in graduate school to become an archivist, I usually get blank looks and the question, “what’s an archivist?” Archives are the documentation of the human experience – our shared history, society, and culture. Without dedicated archivists and museum collections professionals working to seek out, preserve, and provide access to these materials, the historical record would be essentially wiped out. It is important to know history and be able to evaluate it. Our history is what shapes our futures.
What motivates your love of history?
I find history endlessly fascinating, women’s history especially so. Women had for so long been excluded from the historical narrative. Whether they have been told or not, women’s experiences make up half of American history. Here at HERStory our daily goal is to unearth these hidden stories and educate the public about the other half of history that they probably were not taught in school.
What’s your dream job?
I’m not sure if I have a singular dream job, but my dream field is the conglomerate Archives/Museums/Libraries/Cultural Institutions field. In addition to my position at Michigan Women Forward, HERStory, I also work part-time for the Michigan History Museum and the Archives of Michigan. So I guess you could say I’m already living the dream!
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Come visit us at Michigan Women Forward. HERStory! Our regular open hours are 12-5pm Monday through Friday. We’re located at 105 W. Allegan St. in downtown Lansing underneath Grand Traverse Pie Company. There is elevator access to the lower level.
I would also like to give a couple plugs. The Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inductee database on our website, www.michiganwomen.org, lists our over 300 inductees with a printable biography and photograph available for each. A great resource for reference and research! And if you know an inspiring Michigan woman, nominate her to the Hall of Fame! Nomination forms and applications to become a judge in the nomination process are also on the website.