WSW: How Women Made U.S. History With Downtown Kalamazoo Building 140 Years Ago

May 30, 2019

Credit WMUK

Today, the Ladies' Library Association building, a two-story, red brickfaced structure, seems a natural part of the landscape at 333 S. Park St., at the corner of Park and Lovell streets, behind the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and near Bronson Park in downtown Kalamazoo. But, it took an act of legislation from the Michigan State Legislature in order for the group to construct it. Why? Women didn't have the rights they have now when it was built in the late 1870s.


Janet Heller
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

Hear this and other historical facts from Janet Heller, president of the Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo, about the Venetian Gothic-style building and about the library association on today's WestSouthwest news and public affairs show. The structure is believed to be the nation's first erected for the use of a women's club, and, amazingly, Heller says, one still used for its original purpose.

The building turns 140 years old this year, and will be open for tours during the June 7th Art Hop. It was completed in 1879, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

The Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo building, at 333 S. Park St. in downtown Kalamazoo, is 140 years old this year. It is believed to be the nation's first structure financed and built by and for a women's club.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

With women barred from attending many colleges, the Ladies' Library Association provided a way for ladies to increase their knowledge through reading books and other educational activities - Janet Heller

The association was founded in 1852, but its roots date back eight years earlier when it was a reading group and sewing circle.

With women barred from attending many colleges at the time, Heller says the Ladies' Library Association provided a way for ladies to increase their knowledge through reading books, listening to speakers, partaking in plays, and other educational and cultural activities. In fact, women didn't have the right to vote then; it came in 1920.

So, it was only fitting that, as part of ongoing 140th building anniversary festivities, the association launched a stained-glass competition seeking work commemorating the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote, Heller says.

This marker announces to visitors that the Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo building is the first in the U.S. to be erected for a women's club.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

The winner is local artist Sniedze Janson Rungis for her piece titled "Through Hardship to the Stars." She studied art at Western Michigan University and the School of Art Institute in Chicago.

Heller says the piece is to be installed in the eastern addition on the building's second floor.

Hear the shorter, aired interview here.

WestSouthwest is produced by WMUK, the public radio station licensed to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. It airs Mondays & Thursdays at 7:34 a.m., 9:34 a.m. & 4:20 p.m. You can subscribe to the WestSouthwest podcast through Apple iTunes and Google Music. There you can leave a rating and write a review.