WSW: The Story Of Battle Creek's First Female City Commissoner

Jun 8, 2017

Battle Creek City Hall - file photo
Credit WMUK

Battle Creek Enquirer Government Reporter Jennifer Bowman was looking for an election related story when she came across the name Clare Briggs.

Bowman says she wanted to write a story on city elections to coincide with the time when candidates can begin collecting signatures on petitions to get on the ballot this fall. Bowman found a line that Briggs was elected Battle Creek’s first woman city commissioner in 1925.

From there, Bowman dug through the archives to learn more. Briggs went to the University of Michigan, and earned a degree, not common for a woman at that time. Bowman says Briggs was active in the community. Her mother was one of the first female school board members elected in Battle Creek. Her father was a doctor who expressed progress views on women’s rights. Briggs also held a patent on a type of toothbrush. She never married or had children and was in her mid-50’s when she decided to run for Battle Creek City Commission.

Bowman says the reporting at the time shows that some women’s organizations worked to make sure that Briggs got on the ballot. But Bowman says the coverage at the time also shows things “that maybe you hear today, but certainly not as often, and certainly not so easily printed in the paper.” Those comments included that a woman should not be in office, but should be home taking care of children. 

"What she accomplished is no small feat, and I don't think that quickly forgotten"

Briggs served just one term. Bowman says there was a lot of reporting about her possibly having a dispute with the mayor, although Briggs denied it. Briggs narrowly lost her re-election bid by less than 200 votes, and it would be almost another 50 years before another woman was elected to the Battle Creek City Commission. Over time it’s become more common for woman to win election in Battle Creek. On the current Battle Creek City Commission five of the nine commissioners are women.

Bowman says there’s nothing to indicate that Briggs considered political office again after losing her re-election bid. When Briggs died in 1936, the Enquirer wrote in her obituary that she was among the most respected “club women” in the community. Bowmen says Briggs died very well-respected, but her story is not well known decades later. Bowman says what Briggs accomplished is “no small feat” and that should not be quickly forgotten.