Tag Archives: Gossard

Collection Spotlight: Geraldine DeFant Papers

This week we thought that we would highlight the Geraldine DeFant papers, a small but fascinating and important collection. Geri DeFant grew up in Chicago, where poor conditions during the Depression caused her to become interested in politics and especially the labor movement. After graduating from high school in 1933, she spent several years volunteering and then working as a union organizer. She came to Marquette County in 1948 to organize the strike at the Gossard factory in Ishpeming. She stayed in Marquette after the strike and married attorney Michael DeFant (who had been the lawyer for the union) in 1950. After Michael DeFant became county probate judge, Geri had to stop working as a labor organizer.

She remained active in politics, however, serving as the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party for the 11th Congressional District and an aide to Senators Philip Hart and Donald Riegle. She also earned a bachelor’s in political science from Northern Michigan University, was a director of the Manpower Training Program in the Upper Peninsula, served as a Marquette County Commissioner from 1982 to 1991, and served on the Marquette Women’s Center Board of Directors, the Michigan Women’s Commission, the Michigan Civil Service Commission, the Friend of the Court and Childcare Taskforces, the Alger/Marquette Community Mental Health Board, and many more organizations and boards. Geri died in 1996 at the age of 79.

Our collection contains an oral history interview (which is online!), documents relating to the 1949 Gossard Strike, a scrapbook, photographs, newspaper articles, and her resume. The oral history interview documents her early life and the 1949 strike in great detail, but does not give much information on her later political activities. At the interview in 1990, contemplating the vast scope of her life’s work, Geri DeFant commented,

…My basic value system has not changed from…when I was 17, 18. It still is pretty much the same. It’s taken different routes. I was a feminist then I believe, and I am certainly feminist now, and have been active. I believed in participatory democracy and I do now, and I have been active in the political arena. I’ve been a county commissioner for ten years and I’ve looked for ways in which I could make a change in terms of benefits and the ease of living and support of those groups in our community that need support. So I feel I’ve been a fairly consistent woman in what I’ve tried to do.

Geri DeFant

While our materials from Geri DeFant are limited, many other collections at the archives shed light on the 1949 strike and other elements of her life’s work. We have an article on the Gossard strike, photographs from the strike, and a legal file about the strike in the John D. Voelker collection. Newspapers from the time would also provide much information. A copy of Bruce K. Cox’s book Gossard: The Great Bra Factory Strike of 1949 is also available at the archives. Our collection of County Commission minutes include both paper and audio records for the period in which DeFant was a commissioner, and the official minutes can be found online. We also have a collection of oral history interviews from the Marquette Women’s Center which are also available online. Many of the interviewees mention DeFant’s role in the Women’s Center and note that she was a mentor to many of the younger women involved in the Center’s founding.

Other Sources on Geri DeFant:

Tribute to Geraldine DeFant from the Congressional Record

geri defant 2

Interested in viewing any of these collections? You can look at them at any time at the archives! Our hours for this semester are Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10 AM-5 PM and Tuesday/Thursday 10 AM-7PM.

Written by Annika Peterson

Happy Archives Month!

October 1st was Ask an Archivist day on Twitter (#AskAnArchivist). We had multiple people and groups that tweeted questions and comments to us. People asked about alumni at NMU, current projects the Archives is working on, and our favorite photographs of previous strikes in Marquette County. Here are a few of the pictures that we posted on Ask an Archivist day:

blog pic 1In December of 1968, the Black Student Union sat in at an NMU basketball game to protest unfair treatment of African American students by NMU security police among other concerns.

blog pic 2USWA strike April 25, 1946 at the Mather Mine in Ishpeming. Singer Paul Robeson happened to be in Marquette for a performance and came to support the strikers.

blog pic 31949 Gossard Factory strike picket line. The Gossard was a factory in Ishpeming, MI which made bras and underwear. Other than the mines, it was the main employer in Ishpeming in the first half of the twentieth century.

We have multiple events coming up later in October to celebrate Archives month.

October 15th at 6:30/7 PM: Archives Open House and Evening at the Archives: The Embezzling Bishop: The renovations at the Archives are finally complete! To celebrate, we will be holding an open house before our Evening at the Archives event. Come get a tour of the Archives, including our processing area and stacks which are normally closed to the public.

The presentation will begin at 7 PM. Elizabeth Oliver, one of our Magnaghi visiting scholars over the summer, will present on Hayward Ablewhite, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan in the 1930s who went to jail for embezzlement. In a bizarre twist of events, he worked at the Ford Foundation after his release from jail. Refreshments will be provided.

Embezzling Bishop PosterPoster for the upcoming Evening at the Archives event.

October 29th at 7 PM: Dr. Chet Defonso will speak on the role of Archives in documenting LGBT history. He will also discuss materials related to LGBT history here at the NMU Archives. Refreshments will be provided. We’ll keep you posted with more details about the event as we have them.

Edit: Please note: this posting previously contained an announcement for a screening of the movie Anatomy of a Murder on November 1. Due to complications, we have cancelled the event for this semester but do plan on hosting a screening next semester. Check our blog and Facebook for upcoming announcements regarding this event!

Happy Archives Month everyone!