By Jan Worth-Nelson
The League of Women Voters of the Flint Area celebrated its 100th birthday at Factory One Friday night, Valentine’s Day, with a gala that offered a lot of love to democracy, to the vote, and to multiple accomplishments of women, including progress in reaching elected office at all levels.
The theme of the celebration, “Empowering Voters: Defending Democracy,” drew support in remarks from a half-dozen speakers, including U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, Mayor Sheldon Neeley, County Commissioner Bryant Nolden, and retired Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Judith Fullerton, who offered a timeline of women’s achievements over three centuries in her keynote address.
The birthday event included Shelley Hoffman and Brian Haggard performing a historical skit in character as Anna Howard Shaw, a physician, ordained minister and leader in the women’s suffrage movement; and Theodore Roosevelt, a champion for women’s rights in the decade leading up to passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the vote in 1919.
As detailed the LWV materials, the organization was originally founded in 1919 as a part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. “The League of Women Voters… has membership of all persons, aged 16 and up, who wish to learn and advocate for civic engagement and representative democracy,” the League’s website states.
At its founding, suffragette and 19th amendment campaigner Carrie Chapman Catt wrote of the League of Women Voters,
“The purpose was to … unite all existing organizations of women who believe in its principles. It is not to lure women from partisanship but to combine them in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.”
In the part of the program called “Honoring Heroines and Humanitarians,” Flint Institute of Arts faculty member and sculptor Jane Trotter and three of her students, Carol Goyt, Jan Hanson and Dee Moreno, unveiled five new statues, joining a previously finished bust of the late beloved community activist Sybyl Atwood. The new sculptures are:
- Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D, presented by Ingrid Halling. Hanna-Attisha is the Hurley Medical Center pediatrician who became a significant voice for those harmed by the Flint water crisis. Artist Jan Hanson completed that statue.
- Olive Rankin Beasley, presented by Cha’Ris Lee. Beasley, who has been called the “matriarch of the civil rights movement in Flint,” devoted her life to racial equality and racial harmony. Carol Goyt created that bust.
- Claressa Shields, presented by Bryant Nolden, in his capacity as executive director of Berston Fieldhouse, where Shields trained. She is the Flint boxer and two-time Olympic gold medal winner, now established in a professional boxing career. Sculptor Dee Moreno created that sculpture.
- Edith Prunty Spencer, presented by Pegge Adams, a leader and active member of the Flint NAACP for more than 60 years and a tireless champion for all. Trotter completed that sculpture.
- Frances Willson Thompson, presented by Karima Amlani. Thompson was a donor and philanthropist for many causes and projects in the Flint area, including the Frances Willson Thomson library, and the Critical Issues Forum at the UM-Flint. Trotter also completed the Thompson bust.
Trotter said the eventual destinations of the sculptures, which she suggested were needed to add balance to the plethora of male pioneers such as Billy Durant, Charles Stewart Mott and others whose forms have appeared around the city in recent years, have not yet been determined.
In honoring the women selected to have busts created of them, the LWV program said “Acknowledging the historical and meaningful contributions of women is an important element of equity too often neglected in society.”
Awards also were part of the observance. Jane Richardson and Jeanette Hall were honored for 50 years as LWV members, and Linda Hoff, president of the LWV Flint Area chapter, received the “Making Democracy Work” Award.
According to its website, “The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. The League influences public policy through education and advocacy.
“The LWV of the Flint Area is open to new members who share our ideals. Our local league registers new voters, educates voters on upcoming elections, advocates on local issues and works to engage Genesee County citizens in local governance, decision-making and issues of interest.”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the following: Jane Trotter is a faculty member at the Flint Institute of Arts, not Mott Community College. She was joined by three of her students, Carol Goyt, Jan Hanson and Dee Moreno. Carol Goyt created the bust of Olive Beasley. We are very sorry for these inaccuracies.