Cora Reynolds Anderson was pioneer, trailblazer

It’s not unusual for important people and events to fall into the cracks of history, perhaps not forgotten but largely unrecognized and, as a result, unheralded for significant contributions.

Such might be the case of Cora Reynolds Anderson, Michigan’s first female and first Native American state representative. Anderson served in the Michigan House of Representatives in 1925-26, representing Baraga, Iron, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties. Although the building that houses the State House’s legislative offices and committee rooms is named after her, we’d bet not a lot of people know who she is.

“Cora Anderson led the way for other women and Native Americans in Michigan who sought to take an active role in leading their communities,” state Rep. Scott Dianda, who was recently involved in unveiling a portrait of Anderson in Lansing, said for a Mining Journal story on her. “At a time when opportunities for women and for Native Americans were limited, she had the determination to become a strong leader for her community anyway.”

Anderson was elected to the State House just four years after women won the right to vote via the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Born in L’Anse in 1882 and a member of the Ojibway tribe, she earned a teacher’s diploma and taught at the Zeba Mission in L’Anse and at Skanee. She was active in the fight to bring about prohibition, ran an antituberculosis campaign in L’Anse and worked to procure Baraga County’s first public health nurse.

While in the Legislature, she was no stand around: In two years, she introduced bills regulating licensing for beauticians and cosmetologists, establishing sanitary conditions in hotels and inns and bills overseeing fishing rights and accounting and reporting in township offices.

Her Lansing resume includes the membership on the Agriculture, Insurance, and Northern State Normal School committees (the Northern State Normal School would become Northern Michigan University).

She died in 1950.

Anderson was a trail blazer, someone who went places and did things that hadn’t been done before, at least not in Michigan. We shouldn’t let the passage of time dim her memory or contributions.


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