Women of East Lansing were recognized and honored on March 21 for their contributions to the community. City Council approved a resolution recognizing March as Women’s History Month at their regular council meeting.
“We try to make a point of recognizing these special events,” Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said. “It’s nice to have the federal designations, but unless we make a point to connect them with our local community. It’s too easy to dismiss them as a nice gesture without any real meaning.”
The resolution, drafted by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director Elaine Hardy, begins by acknowledging the role women once held in the United States: being considered property of their husbands and subject to “second-class citizenship.”
“It’s important for us to celebrate all of the accomplishments and to hear about the things that weren’t so great, the hardships, as well,” Hardy said. “It gives other women inspiration, I think it inspires all of us. It helps us tell a more complete story.”
The resolution states, “Through tireless and unrelenting opposition to this circumstance, women nonetheless persisted and gained freedom and independence.”
“I think that, while we learn history, history is also our greatest teacher,” Hardy said. “Having the ability to look back on the bravery and the tenacity of women, all the way from the suffragettes to current women who break the mold of previously predominantly-male strongholds is important.”
Hardy’s resolution recognized women who have served in leadership roles or contributed to significant change in their communities. These women include Harriet Tubman and Kamala Harris at the national level, and on the local level, Nan Darling, first woman to be elected to East Lansing City Council, and Joan Hunault, first woman to be elected mayor of East Lansing.
The resolution also named Gregg and councilmember Dana Watson, who took part in approving the draft, as “sentinels for a new generation of women who have committed themselves to ending systemic structures that harm, offend and weaken the human spirit.”
“Dana Watson, in particular, stands out as the first Black woman elected to a seat on City Council,” Hardy said. “That’s a recent historical fact. For us to still be talking about first times for women being elected to office — even the first Black woman — I think it’s important to call out. I also think it’s important for people to know who she is. She came at this work as an advocate and as someone who has a unique caring about our community.”
“Certainly also for Jessy Gregg, who is a business owner and has an interesting story of intersectional identities, and the perspective that she brings to her work of making policy for city government is just really awesome,” Hardy said. “I, as a staffer and a resident of East Lansing, admire her.”
Gregg said despite the difficult work, she’s proud to serve East Lansing, and believes it’s a “transformational time” to be in local government as representation for women and people of color grows.
“It’s important that every member of our community sees their experience reflected in their leaders,” Gregg said. “I want every young person who thinks about serving to think ‘yes, that’s possible, of course I could do that.’”
Interim City Clerk Marie Wicks said she also believes women holding leadership roles is important, having previously experienced a lack of representation in the city manager field.
“As a person who works in a college town and who loves working with students, I think it’s important to be a role model and show you what’s possible and help you believe in the future that you can have,” Wicks said. “My mother was a role model to me, so I think it’s the most important thing to show younger women what they can be. Bust out that glass ceiling. Make your own ceiling.”
City Council works to support women in East Lansing by appointing them as members and directors in local government, considering women-owned businesses in their contracting and providing free menstrual products in city buildings, according to Hardy and Gregg.
“It’s really just recognizing that women are here, they are a part of the leadership, a part of the work that we do everyday in this city to make East Lansing the best place for residents to live,” Hardy said. “We have made a commitment that we’re going to continue to recognize their contributions and continue to make East Lansing a place where women are welcome and their voices are heard.”