By The Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
Born in the lumber town of Muskegon in 1859, Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss’ first classroom was filled with lumberjacks from the surrounding woods. Her career in progressive education took off in nearby Grand Rapids where she became an elementary principal. When she married attorney Dwight Goss in the 1890s and had two children, only the formal position of this Progressive Era activist changed. She led the socially conscious Ladies Literary Club as its president, and in 1896 made her first bid for the Grand Rapids School Board. She won her next five campaigns and made national news as one of three women serving in 1899.
An ardent suffragist, Goss was active in local clubs and was twice a delegate to the annual state convention. In 1899 when the National American Woman Suffrage Association met in Grand Rapids, she helped host delegates, including Susan B. Anthony. During World War I, Goss chaired the Educational Propaganda Committee for Michigan’s division of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. From this platform, she educated women of different backgrounds about why they should use their time and skills to contribute to the war effort.
After losing her husband in 1909, Goss championed progressive education once again as an elementary principal. For the next thirty years she focused on the “whole child” and instituted innovations in curriculum and facilities that were soon adopted throughout the city. She oversaw the city’s first summer playground, opened the state’s first open-air school for tubercular children, introduced manual training, and utilized motion pictures and radio in classroom work.
Understanding the importance of free public libraries, Goss ran for the Grand Rapids Library Commission in 1921 and served through 1926, acting as president during her final year. Goss’s death in 1938 was front-page news, a final tribute to her years of service to the city.