Tag Archives: politics

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


The Political Opinions of Students in 1970

Dr. Robert Kulisheck was a distinguished professor of Political Science at Northern Michigan University (NMU) from 1969 until his retirement in 2007. He served as head of the Political Science Department (1975-1998) and was the director of the Graduate Program in Public Administration (1977- 2001). Kulisheck had just completed his PhD in Political Science at the University of Iowa when he began teaching at NMU in the fall of 1969. During his long career at NMU, Kulisheck was a strong proponent of experiential education. He developed a successful Congressional internship program and was instrumental in the creation of NMU’s graduate program in Public Administration. Kulisheck was also very active in Marquette politics, having served as a Marquette city commissioner, mayor pro tem, mayor, and chair of the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee.


The Dr. Robert Kulisheck papers document nearly four decades of teaching, administrative work, and consulting services. The collection comprises five cubic feet of correspondence, class materials, reports, and studies. Kulisheck taught a wide range of political science courses, including public policy analysis and the politics of United States foreign policy. Of particular interest to historians and social science scholars are the collection’s two cubic feet of “student information forms.” Happily, Kulisheck retained all of the completed forms for his classes. Requesting and gathering basic information about their students is a time-honored professorial function, and in this regard Kulisheck’s form was hardly remarkable. What set his effort apart from his peers’, however, was the form’s final question, “What do you think is the major problem in the United States today?”

Answers varied widely and evolved over time. In Kulisheck’s lower division classes, students generally offered only a terse word or phrase, such as race relations, Viet Nam, and Nixon. Others revealed impatient cynicism with more pejorative clichés like “people are stupid” or “politicians are all corrupt criminals.” Thankfully and not surprisingly, the quality in the scope and content of the answers becomes increasingly more thoughtful, reflective, and better written as students progressed in their college career. By the time students reached Kulisheck’s 400 level seminars, most answers were short essays of several paragraphs in length and addressed all sorts of issues, including environmental protection, government bureaucracy, gender equality, and the mal-distribution of wealth. Taken together, reactions to the question, “What do you think . . .”, shed some light on how NMU students perceived and understood political, social, and economic challenges besetting the nation during the latter decades of the twentieth century.

Despite the school’s remote, peripheral location, NMU students were very much aware and attuned to the World below the bridge. By the end of the 1960s, the NMU community had weathered a number of serious political and social convulsions that reflected or responded to wider national events. Reverberations and the clean-up from these storms would continue to define and shape the campus throughout the ensuing decades. [For a complete history of these events, please see the NMU Archives online exhibit, entitled Student Protests at Northern Michigan University.]

The following quotes are selected excerpts of student responses to the question “What do you think . . .” for Kulisheck’s PS 401, Senior Seminar (Winter, 1970). These commentaries are nearly fifty years old and suggest each student’s struggle to intellectually process one of the most trying decades in United States history. Depending upon one’s perspective, these commentaries also spark a strong and dispiriting familiarity to current events.

What do you think is the major problem in the United States today?

  • The present government which is, in reality, a bureaucratic system, impersonal to the real needs of the people, based upon the interests of special power elites such as the military, military-industrial complex, the super-rich and their giant corporations. Government must be redirected to the people and domestic problems, such as racism, pollution, the cities, education, etc.
  • Democracy isn’t really as neat as it appears to be. Democracy has become the American dilemma. It is too slow and can probably never be had. It seems the minority is always sacrificed by the majority.
  • I feel a major problem is that of apathy . . . This apathy goes beyond simply failing to vote or being concerned with political issues. It extends to every aspect of daily living, from pollution of our air to neglect of the migrant workers.
  • The inability of people to handle the inputs going into their perceptive systems . . . [People] are not adaptive to the revolution in communications systems (live television from all parts of the globe, etc) . . . This seeming speed-up in time, and constant news of cataclysmic events increases tension and anxiety.
  • We must stop spending so much on defense and work on our many problems at home; such as alienation of the young, poor, or black people. In doing this we must create a better understanding between people. Instead of spending on our war machine we must spend on education, pollution control, and our other problems at home.
  • Alienation of the individual and of society. I agree with Albert Camus that man is confronted with an existence with an inevitable doom . . . I feel that this has affected enough individuals so as to create a social problem for society. People are turning to existentialism, hedonism and other alternatives to religion which do not seem to furnish the security of Christianity.
  • A large part of the American population has lost faith in the American system. The minority groups feel the government has no concern for their particular problems. The youth are fed up with the slow progress of our government on such topics as war, air and water pollution, and other factors that are affecting our environment.
  • The desire of man the animal to dominate and control other members of his species . . . When man is taught, has learned or realizes that he needs to develop a working relationship to his environment and surrounding individuals, the other problems such as pollution, waste, murder, and disruption of the social order will be greatly decreased.
  • The failure of the “establishment” to incorporate all segments of society into the “system.” American youth, the poor, and black people plus other minorities have the attitude that they do not have a stake in the nation.
  • The political, social, and economic inequities which are prevalent represent the major problems facing America. From these great inequities, comes anger, hatred, violence, suppression, fear, bigotry, and racism. If these inequities cannot be eliminated, then America will succumb to revolution and ruin.

Written by Marcus Robyns, University Archivist

Collection Spotlight: Political Collections at the Archives

This past Tuesday, November 3, was Election Day in the United States. As it was an off-year election, it featured only special elections to the United States Congress, as well as municipal, school board, gubernatorial, and state legislative elections in a few states. In honor of Election Day, we thought that we would highlight some of our collections related to politics.

The Archives houses the collections of several individuals from the UP active in state politics. One such individual is Dominic Jacobetti, who served from 1954 to 1994 in the Michigan State House of Representatives and was often called the “Godfather of the UP” for his ability to acquire funding to UP projects. The collection comprises seventy-five boxes of material that document his campaigns and his work in the legislature. It includes speeches, reports, correspondence, and newspaper articles.

Dominic Jacobetti, the “Godfather of the UP”

Another collection from a politician is the Charles Varnum papers, who served in the Michigan State House of Representatives from 1966 to 1983. The collection includes records of legislation that he worked on, correspondence, and campaign materials. It also contains audio and photographs of Varnum and his campaigns. His legislative materials especially focus on the Newberry State Mental Hospital.

Another politician who dealt with the Newberry State Mental Hospital was Pat Gagliardi, whose papers are also in the Archives. He served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1982 to 1998. He focused on issues related to lighthouses and the underwater history of the Great Lakes and providing funding for libraries and museums. He also served on many committees covering a variety of topics from the environment to the budget to tourism to retirement issues.

We also have the papers of Fred Sabin, a local leader of the Republican Party who was chairman of the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1964. His records include correspondence, publications, and campaign materials for the local Republican party as well as scrapbooks documenting his political activities.

The Archives also houses records for political organizations such as the Marquette County Democratic Party. records document the local Democratic Party’s activities from 1990 to 2004. They include correspondence, financial information, membership listings, meeting minutes, event materials, federal election commission records, and records concerning campaign kick-off dinners, campaign headquarters records, party conventions, and memberships. Of particular interest to the NMU community are records of NMU students who interned with the party.

Interested in local political history? Come to the Archives and check out the Marquette County Democratic Party records, or our records from local politicians such as Dominic Jacobetti, Charles Varnum, Fred Sabin, and Pat Gagliardi.

Written by Prince Parker and Annika Peterson