Grand Rapids Historical Society (GRHS) began November 30, 1894 at 8:00 pm
in the office of Mayor Ernest B. Fisher. There were ten men present who put together the following purpose; “To organize an association whose purpose it would be to collect and preserve books, papers, pamphlets, maps and other material of historic value and interest on Michigan.” Three weeks later, on December 19, the Articles of Association and Incorporation were adopted and the society was officially named Historical Society of Michigan. Our first formal meeting was December 22, at 8:00 p.m. in old city hall.
By 1895 the Society had changed their name to Historical Society of Grand Rapids, and included in their articles that “the objects of the Association are not for profit, but to institute and encourage historical inquiry ...” Membership originally was limited to the successful, educated, elite citizens of Grand Rapids. There is no record of any woman members in 1895. A membership cost $1; a life membership was $50. Patron supporters gave $250.
Records show that eleven years later the Society was reorganized and placed under the patronage of the Grand Rapids Public Library. Records also indicate that Mrs. James Campbell was Vice-President in 1924, and is the first woman listed in our records.
The GRHS has been reorganized a few times over the last 120 years. Once was near the start of the Great Depression and lasted until WWII. It’s then believed that the Society was dormant during the years of WWII and the immediate aftermath. However, by 1951, citizens of Grand Rapids were focusing on the changes brought on by the war and were looking to preserve Grand Rapids for the future. On Thursday, April 19, 1951, sixty people met to make plans for a new Historical Society. On May 10, 1951, the Grand Rapids Historical Society that exists today adopted its Statement of Purpose and appointed 15 individuals to the Board of Directors.
The Grand Rapids Public Library has the records of the GRHS from 1951 through today, and it remains the meeting place for the Board of Trustees of the GRHS. The Society still has a wonderful working relationship with the library and encourages all those interested in history to visit the Grand Rapids Public Library History and Special Collections on the fourth floor of the main library where more information can be found on this society, and Grand Rapids history as a whole.