Image courtesy of Michigan Tech Archives
March is here, so that means Women’s History Month is officially upon us in the United States. While any month is a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of strong women from all over the world, Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to highlight the contributions of women past and present.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has a great and rich history, and we see this all around Michigan Tech and the Keweenaw. Houghton takes its name from Douglass Houghton, Michigan’s first state geologist, while many Michigan Tech buildings were named in honor of past university presidents, such as F.W. McNair or R.L. Smith. One thing all of these places have in common, however, are that they are named after men.
While the Keweenaw has a lot of men in its history to be thankful for, there are many women who also deserve to be honored who have fallen through history’s gaps. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are four female Yoopers who have helped shape the history of the Copper Country and beyond.
“Big Annie” Clemenc
Anna Clemenc (née Klobuchar) was born in 1888 to Slovenian immigrants in Calumet, MI. At a height of 6’2”, she became known across the area as “Big Annie.” Perhaps the best-known woman in the Keweenaw’s copper history, Clemenc worked tirelessly during her time in the Keweenaw in support of copper miners like her husband and was even jailed numerous times for her actions.
During the Strike of 1913, in which around 15,000 Calumet and Hecla employees walked off the job, she became a key supporter as she marched up and down the streets of Calumet, hoisting a large American flag on her shoulder.
The strikers’ demands included an 8 hour work day, higher wages and the abolition of the one-man drill, which was nicknamed “the Widowmaker” due to the increased number of fatalities following its implementation into C&H copper mines.
Though most of C&H’s employees were men, and the women that worked for the company rarely entered the mines, Clemenc’s advocacy was beneficial to the cause. She moved to Chicago soon after the strike ended, but her dedication to Copper Country miners will always be remembered.
Margaret Holley Chapman
Margaret Chapman (née Holley) was born in Bessemer, MI and raised in Lake Linden. After graduating then from Calumet High School, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Lawrence College. Deciding that was not enough education, she headed back home to the Keweenaw and got her bachelor’s degree in General Science in 1933, making her the first woman to earn a degree from Michigan Tech, then called the Michigan College of Mining and Technology.
A year later, she was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Chapman went on to pursue a graduate education at Tech, making her the first woman to do this as well, and also worked on campus in a corrosion laboratory.
In her later years, she served on the Michigan Tech Fund, which at the time was mostly reserved for men. Michigan Tech ran in the Holley-Chapman family, as Chapman’s father, husband and son were all past Huskies, too. Margaret Holley Chapman paved the way for hundreds of female Huskies to come. Though the gender ratio still has a ways to go, it’s on its way.
Margareeta Johanna Konttra Niiranen was born in Finland in 1861. At age twenty, she moved to the United States alone, something that was unheard of in those days. As a young, single woman with no valuable skills, she was lucky to find work as a housekeeper in Hancock.
She worked hard to teach herself English and changed her name to “Maggie Walz” to be more acceptable to her American counterparts.
After working for some time, she returned to Finland to bring 14 young Finnish women back to the Copper Country, and helped them to learn the language and find work. After being inspired by the ongoing feminism movement in her native country, Walz attempted her own women’s movement in the Keweenaw, but it did not gather enough strength.
Described as a woman with colorful character and the voice of a sea captain, it was said that fathers warned their daughters to steer clear of the woman who “didn’t act like a woman.”
Fierce, independent and in no need of a husband, Walz went on to help create the Calumet Finnish Women’s Society (Suomen Nais-Yhdistys), which aimed to support, educate and empower women.
Though Walz came to the US with nothing, not even the language, she lived a prosperous life through her hard work and remains a prominent figure in Keweenawan women’s history.
Nancy Harkness Love
Nancy Harkness Love, born in Houghton in 1914, was a prominent figure in women’s aviation. After a ride in an airplane through the Keweenawan sky, Love was hooked and begged her parents for aviation lessons. Her parents, ever-encouraging in their children’s endeavours, gave in, and at age 16 in 1930, she became the youngest woman to receive a pilot’s license at a time when most women didn’t even have a driver’s license.
She went to college in New York, and at one time was suspended for flying her plane over campus. She couldn’t afford to return to campus in 1934, but she didn’t mind, as it allowed her more time to focus on her flying.
As the US approached World War II, Love organized the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in 1942 and was named commander by President Roosevelt.
Through her work for the military, she became the first woman to fly high-performance combat aircraft. After the war, Love continued her flying, enjoying it instead as a hobby as she and her husband raised a family.
She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2005 and will be remembered for her passion for aviation at a time when flying an airplane was considered a man’s job.
A special thank you goes out to the Michigan Tech Archives for their help and resources in the creation of this article. For more information on their resources, visit https://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/, or stop by the archives in the garden level of the library to get started on your own research project.