The stories of Northern Michigan women in academics illuminates a compelling narrative of resilience, dedication, and transformative impact. These remarkable women have not only embraced the challenges of the educational frontier but have also played pivotal roles in transforming the region’s academic scene.

Katherine G. Heideman

Katherine HeidmanKatherine G. Heidema (1910-2003) was born on April 11, 1910, in Audubon, Iowa, as the youngest of six daughters to Melville Graham, an attorney, and Katherine Graham (Brown). Her lineage included the esteemed poet and political thinker Leonard Brown, who was a cousin to the civil war humorist Artemus Ward and evangelist Billy Sunday.

A standout student at Audubon High School, Katherine won the state championship in dramatic reading and graduated as salutatorian. Her academic journey spanned four colleges, culminating in a Master of Arts degree.

During her time at UCLA, California, in 1932, Katherine crossed paths with Bert Ronald Mortimer Heideman (1909-1991), a native of Calumet. They married in 1934 and had three sons. Katherine’s career in education and dramatics took her to California, Washington, D.C., and the Detroit area, while Bert pursued degrees in history and law, later becoming an attorney and history professor at Michigan Tech.

Settling in Houghton

In 1949, the Heidemans settled in Houghton, and Katherine assumed the role of Copper Country Intermediate Superintendent of Schools in 1958. Over her 18-year tenure, she oversaw the district’s expansion of services to the mentally retarded and facilitated international teacher exchanges through the Volunteers to American Program.

While her husband ventured into politics, Katherine, a resilient figure, supported his campaigns by co-writing campaign songs. The Heidemans relocated to Hancock in 1961, and Katherine continued her civic involvement. In 1982, she successfully ran for the Hancock City Council, becoming its longest-serving member. She played a pivotal role in adopting Porvoo, Finland, as a sister city, promoting Finnish culture, and hosting Finn Fest in 1985 and 1990.

A woman of diverse interests, Katherine participated in community theater, served on the State Arts Council, and engaged in volunteer speech coaching. Her dedication to education and community was acknowledged with honors, including the Katherine G. Heideman Park Pavilion and induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

Katherine remained an active council member until May 2002, passing away on June 13, 2003, at the age of 93 in her Hancock home. Her legacy is one of enduring service, advocacy, and a lifelong commitment to the enrichment of the Copper Country community.

MARGARET HOLLEY CHAPMAN

Michigan School of Mines Now Michigan Technological UniversityMargaret Holley Chapman holds a significant place in the history of Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech). She was the first woman to complete a degree program at the institution, which was then known as Michigan College of Mining and Technology.

Margaret Holley Chapman achieved this milestone in the early 1930s. In 1933, she earned a Bachelor of Science in General Science, and the following year, she achieved another bachelor’s degree in chemistry. This was a noteworthy accomplishment at a time when women were just beginning to attend classes at Michigan Tech. The early female students, like Margaret, were typically daughters of professors or wealthy businessmen in the Houghton and Hancock area.

Importantly, Margaret Holley Chapman didn’t stop with her bachelor’s degrees. She continued her academic pursuits and became a candidate for a master’s degree in General Science. Her determination and achievements marked a groundbreaking moment for women’s education at Michigan Tech.

First Michigan Tech Female Trustee

Beyond her academic accomplishments, Margaret also played a key role in the university’s governance. She became the first female trustee at Michigan Tech, contributing to the institution’s leadership. Under her married name, Margaret H. Chapman, she furthered her commitment to supporting women’s education by helping initiate a long-running scholarship fund in her name. This scholarship fund aimed to provide financial assistance to women pursuing education at Michigan Tech.

Margaret’s achievements coincided with a notable increase in female enrollment at Michigan Tech during that period. In the same year she completed her first bachelor’s degree, the university enrolled a record-breaking fourteen “co-eds,” the term used for female students at that time. Margaret Holley Chapman’s pioneering contributions paved the way for future generations of women pursuing education and careers in science and technology at Michigan Tech.

Traverse City Ladies Library Association (1869-2008)

Traverse City Ladies LibraryEstablished in 1869, the Traverse City Ladies Library Association predates Traverse City’s first public library by several decades and is often regarded as the oldest social organization in the city. Initially formed by a small group of women at Leach’s Hall, a building on the southeast corner of Front and Park streets, the association aimed to promote reading in the village. Fundraising efforts, such as selling dinners and homemade goods, allowed them to amass a net profit of $141.66, enabling the addition of 70 books to their collection, totaling 200 volumes. In its early years, membership fees were just over $1, initially exclusive to women but later extended to men in 1870.

The Ladies Library Association’s first home was at 205 E. Front Street, now housing Sweet Pea children’s clothing shop, became a notable meeting place for politicians and various entertainers. On July 23, 1909 The cornerstone was laid and time capsule was buried for the new building at the corner of Cass and State Streets. During WWII the association provided space for bandage making to the Red Cross Volunteer Service. In 1944 the building was donated to the city and was converted into its police state in 1958. In 1986 the building was rehabilitated and used for a private law practice.

Traverse City Woman’s Club
Traverse City Ladies Library Party

Ladies Library Party

The association laid the foundation for the Traverse City Woman’s Club, established in 1891, with a mission to foster friendship, knowledge, and goodwill among its members. Martha E. Cram Bates, one of the Ladies Library Association founders, emphasized their altruistic goals for the community.

Over its century-long existence, the Traverse City Woman’s Club accomplished significant initiatives. Starting with local projects like establishing a curfew law for minors and appointing a probation officer, the club expanded its focus to larger causes. They maintained a reading room for mill workers, influenced the creation of a school board, and championed women’s voting rights by amending the city charter.

The organization relentlessly pursued a permanent home, and in 1962, the Traverse City Woman’s Club dedicated the old Oak Park Library as the Elise C. Thirlby Clubhouse at Washington and Rose streets, thanks to the diligent efforts of long-time member Elise Thirlby. The club evolved to engage in civic awareness and supporting the arts. They collaborated with law enforcement, established a halfway house for recovering women alcoholics, and contributed to numerous charitable causes.

In 2008, after more than a century of service, the Traverse City Woman’s Club, a successor organization to TCLLA, disbanded. However, the impact of both the Ladies Library Association and its successor organization continues to be felt in the Traverse City community. The Association was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2023.

Breaking Barriers

These Northern Michigan Women in Academics have not only broken through barriers but have also shaped the educational landscape of the region. As we reflect on their journey, we recognize the profound influence of these educators. Their commitment to knowledge, equality, and progress continues to inspire and shape the educational legacy of Northern Michigan. With unwavering dedication they paved the way for future generations.

Come back for more history of Northern Michigan Women. In our eighth and last article for Women’s History Month we highlight 3 women who excelled on the diamond and on the courts.

Read more about Northern Michigan Women in History. As we publish articles this month we will add links to published articles.

Image Attributions:
Traverse City Ladies Library – Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection, https://localhistory.tadl.org/items/show/13574.
Ladies Library Party –
Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection, https://localhistory.tadl.org/items/show/22284.
Featured Image – Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection, https://localhistory.tadl.org/items/show/20988.