EDITOR'S NOTE: The Women's Center in Marquette is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013. In a four-part series, the center's history, present and future are highlighted. In today's second installment, four of the women involved in the founding of the Women's Center in Marquette talk about the organization's beginnings in 1973.
MARQUETTE - Women in the Marquette community were living in fear in the early 1970s.
"There was a series of rapes on the east side of Marquette that hadn't been publicized," Sally May said. "Women were starting block watches."
Holly Greer, right, who helped organize the group that eventually became the Marquette Women’s Center, speaks during an event celebrating women in 1979. Women’s Center staffer Mary Soper is at left. Northern Michigan University was where the Women’s Center started in 1973, 40 years ago. In the 1970s, women began gathering for “consciousness-raising” sessions and began working together to help one another. (NMU Archives photo)
Karlyn Rapport said: "I had a student come to me who had been raped and it occurred to me there was a need in the community, dealing with sexual violence."
This was added to the concerns already being discussed by women in the area, concern about domestic violence and the shortcomings in the legal system when dealing with these issues.
"That's what got the rape crisis team started," Holly Greer said. "But we knew this was not just about rape victims or spouse abuse victims. There was a deeper need."
An American Association of University Women conference was the event that served as a springboard for what became the Marquette Women's Center, Pat Micklow said.
"After that conference, Northern (Michigan University) founded a women's advisory council," Micklow said. "It was part of Northern's women's studies program. In 1973, Holly was recommended as its director."
Some didn't want the program at all.
"Then Pat called (then university president) John X. Jamrich and said 'we're very busy women. If Northern's not going to do anything...'," May said. "That got things moving."
Greer said: "This was at a time when women faculty members were so underpaid."
"Of course," Rapport said. "People thought women were working for 'pin money.' "
But that was starting to change.
"We offered workshops about fulfilling your potential, about finding out what you could do," Greer said.
"We offered career counseling," Rapport said.
"We wanted to build confidence in women," May said.
"Some of whom were displaced homemakers," Rapport said.
Reaching out to females of all ages was a priority.
"We had women who were working in non-traditional professions go to area schools and talk to students," Greer said.
"The Ishpeming Rotary Club wanted to have us come out to talk to the group, which at the time was all men," Micklow said. "They wanted to hear about women's liberation. We had men shouting at us 'my wife doesn't feel like that!'"
The women involved in the center's launch were a bit naive, they said.
"We thought 'we just have to tell people and they'll understand' and then you find out that, ah, no," May said as the other women laughed.
Greer said a speakers bureau from the center visited all parts of the Upper Peninsula.
"I would talk on domestic violence," Rapport said. "And someone would always come up after to tell me they'd experienced domestic violence."
After the center was launched, on three different occasions groups of women from this area went together to marches on Washington.
"We loaded up the bus in Marquette and then picked up women from other U.P. stops along the way," Rapport said. "We'd arrive and there'd be a sea of buses from across the country."
Micklow said: "You knew it was a historic moment you were sharing."
In 1980, the center moved from NMU to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Marquette, and the efforts to empower women grew even stronger.
"We started offering workshops on finance," Rapport said.
May added: "We wanted women to understand the value of what they did. We wanted them to know what they would be paid for what they did as a homemaker."
Rapport added: "We wanted them to know the skills they learned as a volunteer could be used in a job."
In 1986, the Women's Center moved into its present building on South Front Street in Marquette and continues to offer a variety of programs and services for women.
Coming Wednesday: One woman tells her story of how the Women's Center changed her life for the better.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.