Voltairine De Cleryre: Feminist and Anarchist writer lived in Grand Rapids in the 1880s

Emma Goldman once referred to Voltairine De Cleryre as, “The most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.”voltairine_de_cleyre_age_35

Voltairine De Cleryre was born in Michigan in 1866 and was named after the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire. She grew up experiencing poverty and then was forced to live in a Catholic convent by her father, who thought it would provide a better education for her. Life at the convent did have a positive effect, but not the one that her father had hoped for. What Voltairine developed was not only a critical understanding of the world, she would also eventually identify as an atheist because of the oppressive nature of the Catholic education.

By the early 1880s she moved to the Grand Rapids area and eventually to Grand Rapids and was active in the anti-clerical, Free Thought Movement. Voltairine soon began writing for various publications and exploring other political disciplines. However, it was the Haymarket uprising in Chicago in 1886 that finally brought her to embrace anarchism. More specifically, it was the hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs in 1887, that solidified her belief and commitment in political anarchism.

There is an excellent zine produced by Sprout Distro in Grand Rapids on the history of Anarchism in Grand Rapids, with a section on De Cleryre that is worth citing:

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In addition to De Cleryre’s deep feminist thought, she began devoting a great deal of time to the memory and legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs. In fact, between 1895 and 1910, she began to give speeches throughout the midwest and east coast on the anniversary of Haymarket, on May 1. Paul Avrich, the anarchist historian, eventually put together a collection of these Haymarket speeches by De Cleryre, in a small book entitled, The First Mayday: the Haymarket speeches 1895 – 1910.

In the speech she delivered in 1906 in Chicago, De Cleryre shared these eloquent words:

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For the text of that entire 1906 speech, go to this link

However, De Cleryre did not limit herself to writing just about the Haymarket Martyrs. She was a prolific writer of poetry and essays. In her poem entitled, The Burial of My Past, the anarchist wrote:

And now, Humanity, I turn to you;

I consecrate my service to the world!

Perish the old love, welcome the new –

Broad as the space-aisles where the stars are whirled!

Voltairine De Cleryre was an astute observer of the world. She wrote about anarchism and the particularly anarchism in America. She wrote about Direct Action, Crime & Punishment and the Paris Commune. In 1911, the year before she died, she wrote about the Mexican Revolution.

De Cleryre stated, “The Mexican revolution is one of the prominent manifestations of the world-wide economic revolt. It possibly holds as important a place in the present disruption and reconstruction of economic institutions, as the great revolution of France held in the eighteenth century movement.”

De Cleryre was an admirer of the Mexican anarchist, Rigardo Flores Magon and her last poem was dedicated to the Mexican Revolution.

Gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!

Your guns have spoken and they are dust.voltairinedecleyre

But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,

Have felt the beat of a wakening drum

Within them sounding – Dead Men’s tongue –

Calling: “Smite off the ancient rust!”

Have beheld “Resurrexit,” the word of the Dead,

Written – in – red.

                             from the poem, Written in Red

Voltairine De Cleryre died in 1912, at the young age of 46. However, despite her short life, she not only impacted those who heard her speeches, she continues to inspire generations of people who will consecrate their service to the world!

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Malcolm X Spoke in Grand Rapids in 1962

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On February 12, 1962, Malcolm X spoke at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids to an estimated crowd of 350 people. His lecture was part of the Great Speakers Lecture Series that Fountain Street has hosted for decades.

Before we look at the talk that Malcolm X gave at Fountain Street Church in February of 1962, it is important to put into context where Malcolm was in his own journey as a participant in the Black Freedom struggle.

Malcolm X was already beginning his evolution to a broader understanding of religion and politics. His impact on the Nation of Islam meant a significant growth in the number of temples being created across the country and a pronounced increase in membership.

Just days after speaking in Grand Rapids, Malcolm debated Bayard Rustin in Chicago on the topic, “Integration or Separation for the Negro?” So, one can see that Malcolm was still advocating against an integration into White society and pushing for more Black autonomy and independence.

In late 1962, the first rumors of Elijah Muhammad’s adultery began circulating, which was a devastating blow to how Malcolm viewed his leader.

However, he continued to speak at rallies and became more and more involved in demonstrations against police brutality and other forms of state violence. Malcolm also continued to be critical of the mainstream civil rights movement and the 1963 March on Washington.

In November of 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated and Malcolm made his famous statement about “Chickens coming home to roost,” which essentially meant that the violence that the US has perpetrated around the world and at home resulted in violence being done to them. This statement enraged Elijah Muhammad and he prohibited him from speaking in public from engaging in his ministry. Within three weeks of his being silenced by the Nation of Islam, Malcolm formed his own entities, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and Muslim Mosque Inc.

From that point on Malcolm’s evolution accelerated and he spoke at even more rallies and forums across the country and around the world. Malcolm became much more interested in international affairs and particularly in the anti-colonial movements throughout African, Asia and Latin America.

On February 21st, of 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated at an OAAU rally in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, almost 3 years after he spoke in Grand Rapids.

Malcolm’s Fountain Street Church Lecture

The title of his talk at Fountain Street Church was “Segregation, Separation and Integration.” Fountain Street Church has an audio recording of the lecture, but we have been unable to allow them to let us listen to the lecture or share it with our readers. The  only record we have is from a February 18 article written about the lecture by a reporter named Kurt Luedtke, writing for the Grand Rapids Press.
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The article is not very long and the headline reads, “Black Muslims’ ‘Malcolm X’ Brings Harsh Message Here.” Luedtke refers to the Nation of Islam as a “quasi-religious organization” in the early part of the article and continues throughout to engage in hostile language towards Minister Malcolm.

The reporter does note that this was the second time in six months that Malcolm had been in Grand Rapids to recruit in the Black community. The sub-heading of the article says,”Activities Alarm Leaders of Both Races.” However, nowhere in the article are any Black or White leaders cited, so the claim seems to be unfounded or at least unsubstantiated.

At the very end of the article, the reporter states, “In its exhortation of racial superiority, Black Muslimism has been compared to the German Third Reich.” Such a conclusion only further demonstrates the lack of understand of the reporter and it exposes the contempt he had with what Malcolm X had to say and what the Nation of Islam represented at the time.

We plan to continue to look for any evidence of the recruiting visits to Grand Rapids by Malcolm X in 1962 and if we are ever able to gain access to the audio recording of his lecture we intent to post it on this site.

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Several Arrested in Grand Rapids in 1917 for passing out anti-draft information

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In May of 1917, several members of the Socialist Party, two clergymen and Feminist/Labor supporter Viva Flaherty were arrested in Grand Rapids for distributing anti-conscription pamphlets near downtown Grand Rapids.

This seemingly mild act of informing people about their rights and about the imperialist nature of World War I was seen as a form of treason. There had been numerous laws passed since the beginning of the United States government, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in 1798, which meant to silence and punish those considered to be, those “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.”

The Espionage Act was passed in 1917, as a means to silence and punish those who spoke out against the US entry into World War I. However, as radical historian Howard Zinn points out, these laws were not applied equally and were meant to target dissidents during WWI, particularly radical labor organizers, socialists and anarchists. Some of those arrested for opposing the US entry into WWI were arrested and jailed, while others were arrested and deported.

The level of contempt that the US government held against radicals involved in labor organizing and anti-WWI activities eventually led to the Palmer Raids (1919-1920) as a justification for “cleansing” the US of radical leftists, socialists and anarchists.117200166_138016672849

Those arrest in May of 1917 in Grand Rapids fell under the category of dissidents and radicals. There were several who identified as Socialists and then there was Viva Flaherty. Flaherty was the only woman arrested in May of 1917, but she was possibly the most well known of the group, particularly in Grand Rapids.

Viva Flaherty was some who gave us one of the best accounts of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike, when she published, History of the Grand Rapids Furniture Strike: With Facts Hitherto Unpublished.   

Flaherty, along with those she was arrested with, were passing out anti-conscription pamphlets on Division Avenue near downtown Grand Rapids and on Bridge Street. They had 15,000 copies printed from the Furniture City Printing Company of Grand Rapids.

The International Socialist Review, published in Chicago, makes mention of the action taken by the state against Viva Flaherty and her fellow dissidents. Published in the July 17 edition of the ISR, this is what they had to say about the anti-conscription action: 

Almost all active members of the Socialist Party have been arrested and indicted by a Federal Grand Jury. Principal charge is that the accused, by the circulation of literature and “thru demonstrations, mass petitions and by other means,” conspired to “prevent, hinder and delay” the execution of the conscription law. There were six counts in the indictment.

National Secretary Adolph Germer, of the Socialist Party, was also indicted by the same jury and charged with conspiracy. On learning the “news,” Comrade Germer went to Grand Rapids, submitted to arrest, plead “not guilty” and was liberated on bonds. If necessary, these cases will be carried to the highest courts.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 12.53.44 AM

Grand Rapids has a population around 130,000—mostly wage slaves. Scab labor runs its factories. It is a typical American Billy Sunday burg. Therefore all the fury of the pulpit and the press was directed against the socialists.

Among the indicted comrades are Ben A. Falkner, financial secretary of the Local. For years he has been employed in the city water works department. He has been fired and blacklisted by the political patriots. Comrade G. G. Fleser, corresponding secretary of the Local, who had worked eight years for the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad as a stenographer, was discharged by the patriotic rail-plutes. Viva L. Flaherty, social worker and writer; Charles G. Taylor, member of Board of Education; James W. Clement, manufacturer; Charles J. Callaghan, postal clerk (discharged); Dr. Martin E. Elzinga; G. H. Pangborn; Vernon Kilpatrick; Rev. Klaas Osterhuis, and our wellknown, active old-time Comrade, Ben Blumenberg.

The Grand Rapids Press wrote about the arrests, the selection of the jury and the trial itself. Much of the their reporting reflected a bias in favor of prosecution of those arrested for distributing anti-conscription material. There were a few interesting cartoons that ran during the trial in October of 1917, one with the note below Viva Flaherty’s image which says, “Viva Flaherty has many visitors during recess.”

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Ultimately, Viva Flaherty and her co-conspirators were not found guilty for the charges Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 12.06.11 AMbrought against them from May of 1917. The trial ended on October 18, 1917, and it well documented by the National Socialist Party in the publication entitled, “Not Guilty.” 

Viva Flaherty may not be well know, especially for her opposition to the US entry to WWI and the military draft, but future generations should look to her for inspiration as someone who challenged political and economic power structures in Grand Rapids. Flaherty lived to be 84, eventually dying in 1968.

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10,000 March in Labor Day Parade in 1911

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According to the September 4 issue of the Grand Rapids Herald, 10,000 people planned on marching in the 1911 Labor Day Parade.

According to the Herald, fifty-two unions participated in the march, which began at 10:00am on Bridge street, making it’s way on Canal, Monroe, Division, to Wealthy and back down Bridge street.

There were eight divisions participating in the parade, with a band at the front of each division. Unions from all over the state came to the Labor Day Parade in Grand Rapids, including Lansing, Benton Harbor, Ludington and Muskegon.

The activities of the day also included a bicycle race, a motorcycle race, a boxing match and a baseball game.

Coming off of the longest labor strike in Grand Rapids history, a strike that lasted 17 weeks and involved an estimated 7,000 workers, lots of support and solidarity permeated the air on that early September day in 1911.

The furniture workers led the labor day march of course, just after voting to go back to work in August, thus ending the labor strike. The unions had run out of funds to cover the striking workers and out of desperation and the need to take care of thousands of families, the strike came to an end.

However, such a massive outpouring of support just weeks after the strike came to an end, was a further demonstration of the popular support shown by the larger community. Besides the 10,000 marchers, thousands more lined the streets to cheer the workers who had fought for the dignity of a city and its working class community. Even though the workers did not win any of their demands, they demonstrated the potential of working class people to organize the workplace.

Putting the 1911 Labor Day Parade march in perspective, 10,000 marchers may not seem like an impressive number on labor day, but consider the fact that there were only 112,000 people living in Grand Rapids at the time. This means that more than 10 percent of the population had participated in the Labor Day parade. Further evidence that the community was deeply supportive of unions and working class issues. Grand Rapids was indeed a union town.

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A Working Class and Capitalist perspective: Revisiting the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike – Part Two

( A special thanks to the Grand Rapids Public Library and its support for accessing the source documents used for this article.)MIGRAstrike_rymill1_480x640

In Part One, we looked at the role of Catholic Bishop Schrembs, whom the furniture workers on strike referred to as, Angel of the Workers.

In Part Two of our revisiting of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers strike, we will take a look at two source documents, written just after the end of the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike.

From April of 1911 through August an estimated 7,000 furniture workers went on strike in Grand Rapids, in what was to be the city’s largest labor dispute to this day. After 19 weeks of walking off the job, most workers voted to go back to their factories, despite not winning their demands. Two people, writing from fundamentally different perspectives, documented what took place during the strike and its outcome.

The two people who reflected on the outcome of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike, were Viva Flaherty and R. W. Irwin. Irwin, a furniture factory owner, was part of the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers and Flaherty worked at Fountain Street Church. Irwin’s documentation of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture workers strike is entitled, Story of the Grand Rapids Strike, while Flaherty names her document as History of the Grand Rapids Furniture Strike: With Facts Hitherto Unpublished Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 1.19.38 AM

Viva Flaherty documented the 1911 strike because she believed that the “people of Grand Rapids are awakened and enlightened and they can be trusted with the whole truth.” Flaherty went on to say, in her introduction to the History of the Grand Rapids Furniture Strike:

“A strike is a public matter, and if the people are to know how another is to be avoided they should know all the inside facts of this one, so that they may know whom to distrust and on whose shoulders rests blame for a nineteen weeks strike.”

Flaherty makes it clear in her version of the story that the strike was able to endure as long as it did because of the seven unions that were involved, with membership of over 4,000 workers in thirty-five shops in Grand Rapids. She also made it clear in the opening observations of her historical account that the Christian Reformed Church would not grant their members the right to be part of the union, since it was not “founded on divine right.”

On page 8 of the booklet written by Flaherty, she documents the kind of wages earned by those in the furniture industry, stating that of the eight thousand furniture workers employed in Grand Rapids, most made less than $2 a day. Flaherty also mentions that as early as 1909, after furniture workers found out that the price of what they produced had increased by 10%, they demanded that their wages increase. Some of the workers who had made such demands in 1909 were fired shortly thereafter as being agitators.

As we mentioned in Part One, a commission was established to investigate the grievances of the workers, which included a final report. However, according to Flaherty, the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners had designated the commission as, “the hired servant of that powerful union, the Furniture Manufacturers Employers’ Association.”

Such suspicions were affirmed by the furniture industry’s claims that they needed to honor any of the demands from the striking workers around wages, hours, piece work, etc. Flaherty notes that the furniture barons, “repudiated any social responsibility to regulate wages to suit the cost of living.

On page 17, Flaherty affirms the workers admiration of Bishop Schrembs when she writes:

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Such commentary not only reflects that Schrembs was practicing the social gospel, but it also reflects the sophistication of Flaherty and her keen theological observations. What a powerful indictment she makes of the church that endorsed the furniture barons, by stating that they worship the Almighty God of the Pocketbook.

Flaherty then goes on to talk more about the specifics of the strike, beginning on page 18, where she discusses the “riot” on May 15. The “riot” Flaherty was speaking of is when workers and their wives confronted strikebreakers & scabs who were brought in to continue with production after the walkout of 7,000 furniture workers.

It is worth noting here that during the confrontation against the scab workers, many of the women in the crowd, who had been hiding rocks and bricks under their dresses began to throw them at the scab workers and cops who attempted to escort them into the factories. Such disgust at the attempt to break the strike by the furniture barons is captured in the statue dedicated to the 1911 furniture workers strike. At the feet of the woman depicted in the statue, you can see rocks underneath her dress.

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The City of Grand Rapids, for its part, not only called for arbitration during the strike, but adopted this resolution on July 24, 1911:

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Towards the end of the booklet, Flaherty provides more forceful observations about the furniture industry and reflects a high level of class consciousness that workers had developed in the early part of the 20th century. Flaherty states:

Capital knows that when the people realize that capital is organized in this country today for the conscious and deliberate purpose of crushing labor in its efforts to become free, the people will make common cause with labor and send the divine right of capital to join the divine right of kings. Industrial freedom is a state which the world as yet has not experienced.”

Flaherty then follows up with a clear indictment against the captains of industry, particularly the National Association of Manufacturers and the Furniture Manufacturers Employers’ Association. These entities were producing their own propaganda that blamed workers for being “class conscious” and for “stirring up trouble.”Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 1.19.10 AM

Viva Flaherty’s documentation of the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers strike is in stark contrast to the observations of R. W. Irwin. Whereas, Flaherty’s booklet was distributed in public, Irwin’s booklet was a transcription of a talk he gave to the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers in December of 1911.

Irwin begins his observations by making the claim that, “nor do I believe there is any other place in this country where the rank and file of the laboring men are better housed and better cared for than in Grand Rapids.”

Irwin continues with his arrogant tone by talking about the businessmen in Grand Rapids as “having unusual strength and ability.” He mentions several of the furniture barons on page 5 and states, “that Grand Rapids owes its supremacy in the furniture world” to these men.

To his credit, Irwin does acknowledge the union organizing efforts in Grand Rapids, particularly those of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. (pages 8 – 9) However, shortly after this acknowledgement, he dismisses the claims made by the unions before and during the strike, by saying the following on page 10:

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Near the end of Irwin’s talk to the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers, he grants near sainthood status to his fellow industrialists.

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The “ruin” that Irwin mentions was nothing more than to pay people a livable wage and grant the other demands presented by the strike. If such demands had been met, it would not have meant the ruin of the furniture barons, but it would have meant that the furniture workers would have enjoyed a better life.

It is critically important that both a worker and a capitalist perspective are preserved on the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers strike in these documents. They represent the strong class divide that existed in Grand Rapids at the time, a divide which still permeates the city today.

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Revisiting the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike – Part One

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It was 105 years ago this month that workers voted to end the strike against the furniture industry in Grand Rapids.

Over 6,000 workers went on strike in April of 1911 against poor wages, long hours and exploitative working conditions. The furniture barons responded by bringing in scab workers from out of town and to engage in a strategy of attrition, by wearing down the workers and holding out against their demands.

In the next several postings on the Grand Rapids People’s History Project, we will look at various players in the 1911 furniture workers strike. Today, we will be looking at Bishop Joseph Schrembs, the catholic bishop, whom the labor movement referred to as “Angel of the Workers.”

Bishop Schrembs role is significant on many levels. First, the bishop was invited to be part of a negotiating committee, along with Rev. Alfred Wishart, from Fountain Street Church. Workers had clear demands ast the time, but the furniture barons were unwilling to compromise and diminish their profits.220px-Bischof_Josepg_Schrembs_Cleveland2JS

The committee that included Schrembs and Wishart, was created for the following reason:

“To obtain from any employee or group of employees, either individually or through their representatives, a statement of their grievances and proposals together with their reasons therefore.” (Lydens, The Story of Grand Rapids)

The workers were demanding a 9 hour work day, a 10% increase in wages, the elimination of piecework and the establishment of a minimum wage. Workers also demanded the right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining.

At the time, the furniture barons were blacklisting workers who had any sort of union affiliation, which often resulted in their termination from the company. Schrembs himself pushed for the 9 hour work day and also, “asked whether it was fair for employers acting in an association, to deny the right of union to their men.” Schrembs was referring to the Manufacturers Association, which was the dominant business association the furniture barons belonged to.

The committee heard testimony from workers in the lobby of the old Livingston Hotel on the corner of Fulton and Division. After hearing testimony from workers over several days the committee then met amongst themselves with the intent of publishing their findings. However, the Furniture Manufacturers Association stated on April 18 of 1911, that it would “not deal with workers in any form of collective bargaining.” (Kleiman, Strike: How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids) The workers called for a massive strike the very next day.

After several weeks and growing tensions between the industrialists and workers, Bishop Schrembs began to speak out against the injustice being done to the workers.

I consider the present labor situation in our city as a most deplorable one from every point of view. I would welcome and hasten the day when compulsory arbitration will force men dealing with their fellow men to let fairness and justice come to their own through reasonable methods rather than through the cowering of men’s hearts through the cruel pangs of hunger of their wives and children.

Bishop Schrembs would also invited to speak at several rallies held by the workers over the 17 weeks of the strike. At one rally in early May at the Ramona Theater in Grand Rapids, where the bishop addressed some 2,500 striking workers, he “praised the workers’ moderation and and restraint, noting that had it not been for the labor unions, we would still have the conditions which shamed men and women one or two generations ago.” (Kleiman, Strike)9780977904303

Such pronouncements by Schrembs did come at a price. The furniture barons and wealthy sectors of Grand Rapids began to question the bishop and make accusations against him. In an open letter in one of the industry’s publications, Francis Campau:

“asserted that Schrembs promoted discord by encouraging a sense of ingratitude among the working class for all the benefits that they had reaped through the factory owners’ efforts. The men who are the owners and the managers of the furniture factories in this city……lived here all their lives. They and their ancestors are to be credited with making Grand Rapids the name it has in the world today as a furniture center. It was unjust, he claimed, to insinuate they are conducting slave-driving institutions and standing as the oppressors of labor.” (Kleiman, Strike)

Eventually the mutual aid provided by the unions to striking workers and their families took its tool. On August 19, after 17 weeks of striking, most workers voted to go back to work and thus the strike ended.

On August 9, the Christian Reformed Church came out with an official decree that no worker who belonged to the church would be allowed to join a union.

Shortly after the strike ended, Bishop Joseph Schrembs was reassigned to the Toledo, Ohio diocese. There is no hard evidence that Schrembs departure was due to his role in supporting striking workers, but the timing of such a decision suggests otherwise.

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Anna Bissell Statue in Grand Rapids: Honoring another Capitalist

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Last week, a new statue was unveiled in Grand Rapids, in front of the DeVos Convention Center, honoring former CEO of Bissell Corporation, Anna Bissell.

The unveiling drew a small crowd consisting mostly of the business community, some descendants of the Bissell family and a few local politicians. The statue is part of the Legends series that has been spearheaded by businessman Peter Seechia, who is part of the Grand Rapids power structure.

Anna, who was married to Melville Bissell, started as a sales person for the company, but took over in 1889 when her husband died. Anna Bissell ran the company until 1919 and remained chairman of the board until 1934.

One of the claims that is part of the statue and is promoted on the Bissell Corporation website states:

Anna was known as a progressive executive who showed concern for her employees, introducing innovative labor relations policies, including employee compensation, insurance, paid sick leave and pension plans, long before these practices were widespread.

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Even the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council repeats the same mantra about Anna Bissell. In fact, Bissell is one of seven women that the Grand Rapids Women’s History Council features as women who Made a Difference. 

So what does it mean that Bissell introduced innovative labor relations policies? There is no evidence that a labor union was allowed to organize or attempted to organize at the company. The notion that paid sick leave and pensions plans were implemented “long before these practices were widespread, does not mean that the company engaged in such practices out of some benevolence. These policies were adopted at a time in the early years of the 20th Century, when organized labor was more radical and militant than at any other point in US history. The fact that the Bissell Corporation adopted such labor practices could also very well suggest that they by adopting such policies was a way to prevent workers from organizing.anna bissell

In looking at labor history sources in Grand Rapids, there is no mention of any attempts to unionize the Bissell Corporation. In fact, the only major history book on Grand Rapids that mentions anything about the Bissell Corporation is the book edited by Z. Z. Lydens, The Story of Grand Rapids: A Narrative of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

On page 294, there is only reference to the company buying up other companies, thus expanding it capacity in business portfolio. However, there is another reference in Lydens book near the end, on page 637, which makes the claim that in 1900 Mrs. Bissell may have hosted the very first office part on New Year’s Day at her home on College Avenue. Bissell factory employees and their family were said to have attended.

So, what can we make of the latest statue in Grand Rapids and the woman that it honors? Some will no doubt argue that Anna Bissell was breaking a glass ceiling, by becoming the head of a major company at a time when men ruled that arena. However, what could also be said is that Anna Bissell, the owner of a multi-million dollar company with global reach, made her wealth from the labor of those who worked in the factories. Lastly, the latest statue in the Legends series only proves that women can be good capitalists as well.

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