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Cora-Reynolds Anderson: a career of firsts.

There is only one government building in Lansing that is named for a woman. That honor was bestowed upon Cora Reynolds Anderson: the first Native-American woman elected to state office in the country.

Much of Cora Reynolds Anderson's life was centered around the Upper Peninsula community of L'Anse. Born there in 1882 to a white father and a mother associated with the Ojibwa tribe, she attended local schools and enjoyed the natural beauty that surrounded her. Driven to help others from an early age, she dreamed of being a teacher. She journeyed more than 800 miles to train for that purpose at the Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) in Lawrence, Kansas.

Returning to L'Anse, she taught for several years in area schools. After marrying Charles Anderson in 1903, she set aside that career to join him in running a local hotel.

Anderson's desire to improve the lot of those less fortunate led her to take up a new cause: establishing a public health service for Baraga County. She also led the way in recruiting a nurse for the service. Anderson was particularly concerned about the incidence of tuberculosis and alcoholism in the community. She and her husband shared a commitment to temperance.

In the 1920s, Anderson turned her attention toward politics. Just five years after women were granted the right to vote, she ran for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives--and won.

She wasn't the first woman in the legislature. (That honor belonged to Eva McCall Hamilton; see sidebar for details.) But she was the first from the U.P. and the first Native-American woman to assume a state office in our nation's history.

During her tenure as a legislator, she was appointed chair of the committee overseeing the Industrial Home for Girls--a role that allowed her to positively impact the lives of young women who had been incarcerated. She also continued to promote public health issues by sponsoring bills to regulate sanitation practices in hotels and among hairdressers.

Ever conscious of her constituents--particularly the Indian community--she involved herself in fishing rights on Huron Bay. This work earned her the moniker "Lady of the Land" from her colleagues in the House.

Redistricting cost Anderson her job at the end of just one term. But she returned to the north woods reinvigorated to continue her good works there.

Having grown up on a farm, she was drawn to join the Michigan Grange. The Grange, which supported farm families with a host of social services, was aligned with Anderson's interests. She quickly rose through the ranks to become an officer of the organization, representing the U.P. with distinction.

Anderson was not blessed with children, but she gave of herself in a maternal fashion to causes she believed in. "Lady of the Land" may have been one nickname applied to her. But "Mother of the Land" seems equally appropriate.

Though she lived for only 68 years, L'Anse's favorite daughter led a full life. She was recognized for her accomplishments in 2000, when the state House chose to name its new Lansing office building for her. The following year, she was inducted into the Michigan Womens Hall of Fame.

RELATED ARTICLE: Eva McCall Hamilton of the senate.

After winning a seat in the state senate in 1920, Eva McCall Hamilton became the first woman to be elected to the Michigan legislature. She served on four committees--banks and corporations, taxation, normal schools, and insurance--and chaired a fifth, the industrial schools committee, which oversaw the state's training schools for juvenile offenders. Hamilton came to Lansing determined to champion women and children. One of her greatest achievements was her work on Senator G. Elmer McArthur's 1921 bill to reform the Michigan Mothers Pension Act. Laws such as this were revolutionary, because they provided public funds for keeping underprivileged children in their homes rather than in institutions.

Hamilton's political and civic involvement did not begin with her election, nor did it end with her unsuccessful second term bid. In 1912, while working on a major state referendum on women's suffrage as well as the Michigan mothers pension legislation, she began a successful fight to establish the first farmers retail markets in Grand Rapids. Her battle, which culminated in 1917, ended civic ordinances prohibiting farmers from selling directly to customers and helped combat the rising cost of city living. After serving as a state senator, Hamilton remained socially active, focusing on initiatives designed to encourage women to play a role in civic affairs. One of these was the Michigan League of Women Voters, established in Grand Rapids in 1919 and today known as the League of Women Voters of Michigan.

Source: Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame.

Patricia Majher is editor of Michigan History magazine.
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Author:Majher, Patricia
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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