MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – 50 years ago Nixon was in office, Secretariat won the Triple Crown and Holly Greer, Patricia Micklow, Karlyn Rapport and Sally May helped establish the Women’s Center. Before that, these women had a passion for change in a time that was very different for women than we think of today.

“We had a lot of issues that we were trying to deal with,” said Micklow.

“Well, we couldn’t have a credit card,” said Rapport. “They couldn’t get a loan. Sally had difficulty setting up a business unless her husband signed on. The library wouldn’t issue a library card in your own name. It had to be ‘Mrs. James Rapport’.”

The library card was the first issue these women along with others protested in consciousness-raising group sessions they held.

“We got caught up in the idea that after reading the Feminine Mystique that we really needed to do our own consciousness-raising groups,” said Micklow. “The first one that we had was in my house. I think that we might have had maybe 50 people there. We divided into smaller groups. We were really regarded as the radical groups of women bringing these ideas of that time. This was like 1968.”

Some were not exactly receptive on what these ladies were fighting for, but they didn’t give up on making their voice heard.

“We had been raised in a culture that constantly told us that there were certain things we could do and certain things we couldn’t do because we were women,” said May. “We were living in a culture that was really repressive. We didn’t know that until we started questioning this whole thing. So, it was really fascinating and really an eye-opener. It was then at that point that we started wondering if maybe NMU could start a women’s center. We ended up having a conference called the ‘Changing World of Women of the ’70s’ and there were about 150 women who came from all over the U.P.”

The community needed a place dedicated to helping those in danger from an intimate partner violence and assault and these women saw that need.

“I’m a retired speech and language pathologist and I worked at Marquette General,” said Rapport. “My colleague and I started the rehab department and I had a series of patients that were my patients because of traumatic brain injuries they suffered as a result of domestic violence and there was no place for them to go. Their own families were very concerned about what the perpetrator might do to them if they offered shelter to their family. That was an eye-opener for me. I could just not stand idly by. We provided shelter in our own homes. It was very evident that many places in town, agencies, faith communities were trying to help the person in front of them arrive at a solution. But, each one of these whether it was Lutheran Social Services, or Child and Family Services, or whatever that this person presented themselves to, that people were working in silos. They weren’t working on a collaborated, coordinated effort by the community to help deal with the problem of domestic violence. The police chief dealt with it by picking up the perpetrator and driving him to Presque Isle and just leaving him off there and saying that he’ll cool off when he was to walk back home. Well, you know of course that was not a cooling off period for that walk. So that’s what we were dealing with. Not only working with people that were evolving the Women’s Center, but the American Association of University Women helped me gather all of these agencies together to form a spouse abuse task force so that we could look at what was needed. While the conference pointed to the need for the Women’s Center, the Spouse Abuse Task Force pointed to the need for a shelter.”

Each of the four ‘Founding Mothers’ had a strength in helping to make the Women’s Center what it is for survivors and 50 years later, they are proud of the lasting legacy it has had on the community.

“I think a tribute to people from this region that they felt strongly that these resources need to be available for people,” said Rapport. “Both male and female and children. It is quite remarkable and I think the community needs to be justly proud of that.”

These strong women want to encourage the next generation to stand up for their rights and let their voices be heard.

“As you look at this, what a community has been able to do that I hope it will inspire young women and women of all ages to vote for their rights,” said Rapport. “We need an equal rights amendment. I had hoped it would be accomplished in my lifetime, and at 88 I wonder because it’s in trouble.”

“Women have decided that if someone tells them they can’t do it, then they’re going do it,” said Micklow.

The Founding Mothers along with others in the community will be celebrated on Saturday, November 4 at the Women’s Center 50th Anniversary Heroes Gala at the Marquette Regional History Center. For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, click here.

If you or someone you know is in danger of domestic violence, contact the Women’s Center at their 24/7 support line at (906) 226-6611 or click here to visit their website.