Roundtable focuses on notable local women in history


Courtesy / GVSU

Audrey Whitaker

The Kutsche Office of Local History is turning their focus to women for the 12th Annual Local History Roundtable, which is spread throughout March with three events.

The Roundtable event began with “Solidarities: White Women and Women of Color’s Activism to Secure the Vote” on March 1, and will continue with “Lesser Known Women in West Michigan History Roundtable” on March 17, and “Grand Rapids Women & Their Work During the Great War” on March 24, said Kimberly McKee, director of the Kutsche Office of Local History.

“Our theme for this year reflects a desire to demonstrate women’s interventions in social justice movements,” McKee said. “We’re particularly interested in the role of women in history and how women’s activism helped shape our local communities.”

David McCord of the Ionia Historical Society explores the roles of women in local history in the Lesser Known Women in West Michigan History Roundtable. McCord said that being able to share these stories is inspiring. 

“Women in history are unsung, and they play a terrific role in the goings-on in their community, but for whatever reason, never quite made the headlines,” McCord said. “In many ways, these stories are the building blocks of our heritage”

In her research, Brenda Nemetz of the Lakeshore Museum Center uncovered the story of Rosie Wilkins, a Muskegon woman with a prolific quilting career. 

“The first thing we did was look at our own collection and we had nothing about her, and nobody we knew anything about her,” said Nemetz. 

Like many women, Rosie’s accomplishments hadn’t been celebrated by her local community. Nemetz said that events like the local history round table are one way to change that.

“It’s really about the struggles that we had with researching her, and making sure that this doesn’t happen again, that women in our community are not overlooked,” Nemetz said. “We can look at our own collection as a museum at our exhibits and make sure that there’s a representation of the community we’re supposed to serve.”

Historical research presents many challenges, which Nemetz hopes will encourage attendees to document the lives and accomplishments of themselves and their family members.

“I’m hoping people are really inspired to document their own stories document, women in their own families, and make sure that they capture those stories while they still can,” Nemetz said. “Even if it doesn’t end up in a museum, exhibit it’s still important for your own history, your own legacy.“ 

Katelyn Bosch VerMerris researched women’s role in the West Michigan workforce during World War I. VerMerris said that in addition to sharing an important part of history, she is inspired by the stories she has uncovered.

“You see this mass mobilization of women who are just trying to protect their families but also who care a lot about their community and their country, and they want to help, and they want to do whatever they can,” VerMerris said. “It’s incredibly motivating to me to know that women came together to make that happen and that I can make a difference because they did.”

To learn more and RSVP to these events, visit