Grace Ames Van Hoesen
(1870-1959 ) Suffragist, Kent County Commissionerby The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
In 1915, after working as a bookkeeper for 23 years, Grace Ames Van Hoesen took courses at the University of Chicago on industrial education and juvenile delinquency and ran for the Grand Rapids School Board. Touted as the first “businesswoman” to enter politics, she still lost. In 1919 she ran again and lost.
By this time, Van Hoesen had also joined and become president of the Equal Franchise Club; chaired committees on women in industry for the state’s Equal Suffrage Association and the local WWI Woman’s Committee for the Council of National Defense; and contributed to the success of the 1918 Michigan campaign for equal voting rights. She published her account in The Woman Citizen: “Michigan’s Incontrovertible Majority: Why Grand Rapids Was Won.”
As a “moving spirit” behind the organization of the Grand Rapids League of Women Voters, Van Hoesen reinvested her experience as a working woman in lectures on voting for groups like the Woman’s Association of Commerce and in later publications on city government. Her influence in the newly formed Michigan League of Women Voters led to her vice presidency in 1920 and attendance at the League’s first national congress in Chicago, held in conjunction with the Nineteenth Amendment victory convention of the national suffrage association.
Before returning to elective politics, Van Hoesen led a local peace movement in 1921 and advocated for labor reform at the International Congress of Women Workers in Switzerland in 1922. In 1923, she ran for a seat on the city commission. She lost, but continued modeling political campaigning for women. Finally, in 1930 Van Hoesen won a place in Grand Rapids elective history as the first woman both to run for and to win a seat on the Kent County Commission, where she served for eight years during the Depression. Few have so fully distinguished themselves in Grand Rapids civic and elective affairs as Grace Ames Van Hoesen.