Politics in the Archives: Parties, Politicians, and Campaigns

Part IV:  Geraldine Defant and Women in Politics

Part IV of our series looks at the collections of Geraldine Defant and the Women’s Campaign File.  The Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan Archives seeks to acquire the records of political parties and organizations and the papers of politicians and political activists that document the history of public participation in politics and government in the central Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you are aware of the existence of such records and papers, or you are interested in donating such collections to the Archives, please contact Marcus C. Robyns, University Archivist, at 906-227-1225 or mrobyns@nmu.edu.

The 2018 Michigan Mid-Term General Election is November 6.  On this year’s ballot are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, thirty-five of the one hundred seats in the Senate, thirty-nine state and territorial governorships, and a number of other state and local elections.  The Secretary of State Webpage, Michigan Voter Information Center, provides information on voter registration, absentee ballots, primaries, polling locations, sample ballots, and more.  The 2018 Michigan Election Dates Booklet, published by the Secretary of State, is a great source for following the State’s electoral process.  The document provides a detailed calendar for the elections including a timeline for the stages in the 2018 election process, filing requirements for nominating petitions, a listing of offices to be elected, and recount filing information.

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MSS-007:  Women’s Campaign File collection

            This is an artificial collection compiled for use in a series of exhibits sponsored by the NMU Commission for Women during March 1995 Women’s History Month.  The collection contains campaign material for various female candidates seeking local, regional, and state political office between 1972 and 1995.  The material consists of campaign fliers, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and informational flyers; some files also include contact information and donor information.

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MSS-0027:  Geraldine Defant papers

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A longtime Marquette labor leader and politician, Geraldine Defant (1917-1996) came to the Upper Peninsula in 1948 as an organizer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers (ILGW) union of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).  Upon arriving from Chicago, Defant assumed the role of union organizer, business agent, and leader during the workers’ strike against the Gossard Corset Company.  The ILGW attempted to unionize the Gossard three times prior to the 1949 strike and failed due to management intervention.  By 1949 however, management had restructured how the workers were paid, changing from a penny piecework payment system to a point system, resulting in pay decreases leading to strikes at the Ishpeming and Gwinn plants.   Defant contributed to the success of the 1949 strike, after three-months of picketing and negotiations workers and management settled on a contract, and unionized the Gossard.

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Defant’s relocation to Marquette brought more to her than a successful strike.  During the strike, Defant hired local lawyer Michael Defant to represent the union during discussions with the Labor Relations Board.  Michael Defant was the labor lawyer for the Steelworkers’ Union at the time and they married in 1950.  Her work with the union ended a year later when Michael became a Marquette County Probate Judge, a non-partisan position that prevented the judge and his family from active involvement in politics.  Geraldine redirected her focus toward community projects during Michael’s 20-year term.  She organized the Marquette County’s first co-op nursery school, promoted school bond issues, organized a social service charity venture designed to serve clients of the court with getting jobs, housing, necessary services, etc., and in 1964 received a B.S. in Sociology from NMU.

Upon Michael’s retirement from the bench, Geraldine returned to the world of politics.  An active member of the Democratic Party, she served as the Democratic chair of the 11th Congressional District and was involved in fund-raising, political education, and organizing national and state campaigns for the district.  Defant served as an aide to Senators Gary Hart and Donald Riegle.  Taking the advice of Senator Carl Levine, she ran for and was elected to the Marquette County Board of Commissioners (1983-1990) and served as Chair of the Executive Committee from 1983-1988.   One of the founders of the Marquette Women’s Center she served on its Board of Directors, as well as, serving six years as an appointee to the Michigan Women’s Commission.  Defant received recognition for the inception and passage of legislation overhauling Michigan’s Friend of the Court system in 1982, shifting focus from punishment to payment, substituting automatic wage deductions for jail sentences, for child support payments.

The material in the Geraldine Defant papers cover the years between 1948 and 1990 and consists of a recording and transcript of an oral interview conducted by Jennifer Grondin in 1990. The collection also includes copies of a scrapbook, photographs, and newspaper articles relating to her life and career.

Additional material relating to Defant is also available in other collections maintained in the Archives: MSS-007 – Women’s Campaign File records, MSS-039 – John D. Voelker papers, MSS-078 Dominic J. Jacobetti papers, and MSS-385 Women’s Center records.

 

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“…there are two main things in life, and they’re both taught in kindergarten.  Don’t hit anybody, and clean up your own mess.”

—Geraldine Defant

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Part V:  Raymond F. Clevenger

Series developed and written by Glenda Ward

Digitization performed by Libby Serra

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