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How to get to know someone who died years before you were born

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

The following is a note regarding one of Greenwood Cemetery's annual history books. In 2021, the theme was "The Suffragists of Greenwood.'

Before Karl Crawford asked if I would be interested in this project, I will regretfully admit, I didn’t know anything, nor really hold sufficient appreciation, for woman suffrage. The lonely bit of information I had came from the “Sister Suffragette” song in Disney’s “Mary Poppins.”

As it turned out, I had a lot to learn.

Absorbing oneself into a subject as vast as this is overwhelming. After all, so much information is available on all that’s happened since the first attempt at woman suffrage happened in Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848.

So I appreciated the focus. For the task at hand, we are learning about the suffrage movement in Petoskey and we are profiling only the women who are interred here in Greenwood Cemetery.

I began my research with the eldest of our Greenwood suffragists, Emma Lamb Barnes Baker. Something inside me lit up as I collected pieces of information from newspaper archives, and Emma The Person, emerged from the data. I couldn’t help feel a bit sad to find she had no children of her own. But then I thought, “I am here, 92 years after her death, learning from her and thinking about her and visiting her grave and recording her story for others to see.” Perhaps even a child, if she had had one, wouldn’t reach as far as this.

Petoskey Stones Speak: Petoskey Suffrigists
This book is on sale for $16 at the Greenwood office.

Emma and I are both writers, but she was also a gifted speaker and a life of the party wherever she went. Much like the people of Petoskey in the early 1900s, I find myself drawn to her. Each time I saw her name in print, my heart did a little flip. Like seeing a good friend unexpectedly at the store.

I gathered up the lives of these ten women through all the bits and pieces I could find. Minnie, the big sister; Zilla, fiercely independent, leaving her husband at a time when divorce was not discussed; Marguerite, with her passion for genealogy and history; Lulu, the baby of the group and everyone’s friend. She packed a lot of life into her short 40 years.

Alma had focus — she wasn’t involved in as many different clubs as the other women, but spent most of her time and effort for the Rebekah Lodge. This concentration paid off as she climbed all the way to the top.

Grace’s husband died when she was just 33. She fled with her two young children to the solace of her mother’s home, but she bravely carried on. She was a lifelong teacher and a lover of books and believed everyone should have access to them.

In the one piece of evidence I did not get from the newspaper archives, but from a relative of Frances, I learned that her daughter, Ione, mentioned a few times in the paper, was not a natural daughter, but an unofficially adopted daughter who, according to Frances’ grandson, James, was “a sweet, kind and industrious woman.”

Margaret had unbelievable wealth. Of course, I know nothing of what that was like. In matters concerning the community, Margaret was quiet, but very present. Like her mother, she had a heart for the poor and took her mother’s place as a leader in the Home Benevolent Society after she died.

Edith rose up as a champion for the Red Cross. She saw a need, and filled it with gusto and immediacy. She is sensible. During the war, when food conservation became a serious bit of war work, she moved that all area women’s clubs make it a policy to forgo their usual refreshments at social and club events. The women of Petoskey agreed and applauded her brilliance.

I found it interesting that through my research, it became so clear to me that Edith and Margaret were close friends, perhaps best friends. They and their husbands and some of the group’s brothers and sisters often would take off in their cars on weeks-long trips and the two attended the same parties and clubs. When Edith stepped down as chair of the Petoskey Red Cross branch, Margaret stepped up.

Now that I know these women who worked together 100 years ago in my hometown with many other women for the right to vote, the next time I am at the polls, I will most assuredly check my boxes with a new intensity. I will lift my eyes to the heavens and thank these strong Petoskey women for all they did, and I will aspire to be more like them.

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