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Happy 140th! Ladies' Library Association Building, An American Landmark

Did you know downtown Kalamazoo is believed to be home to the nation's first building financed and built by and for a women's club, and still used for its original purpose? The Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo building turns 140 years old this year. It'll be open for tours during the June 7th Art Hop.

Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK
Janet Heller

Janet Heller, president of the Ladies' Library Association of Kalamazoo, talks to WMUK's Earlene McMichael today about the history of the Venetian Gothic-style structure and of the library association on today's WestSouthwest news and public affairs show.

The two-story, red brickfaced building is located at 333 S. Park St., at the corner of Park and Lovell streets, behind the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. It was completed in 1879, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

As women were barred from attending many colleges, the Ladies' Library Association provided a way for them 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.

As women were barred from attending most colleges at the time, Heller says the Ladies' Library Association provided a way for them to increase their knowledge through reading books, listening to speakers, partaking in plays, and other educational and cultural activities.

In fact, because of restrictions on women then (the right to vote came in 1920, for example), Heller says it took an act of legislation from the Michigan State Legislature for the library association to construct its headquarters.

Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK
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.

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

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 will be installed in the eastern addition on the building's second floor.

Hear the longer interview here.

WestSouthwest news & public affairs show airs Mondays and Thursdays on WMUK 102.1 FM at 7:34 a.m., 9:34 a.m. and 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.

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