On a recent afternoon, Caitlyn Dial walked me through the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame. While she has only been with the center for two weeks, she seemed right at home. As we walked into the room devoted to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, her eyes scanned the dozens of portraits representing some of the state’s most accomplished women.
“I’m so glad to be here,” she said.
Dial, 30, was recently appointed museum educator for the historical center. She holds a bachelor’s degree from MSU and a master’s degree from Wayne State University, both in history, and is a doctoral candidate in public history at Western Michigan University. Most recently, Dial served as curator for the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph. A major focus of her research is women’s history.
“When I saw the posting, I said, ‘This is my job,’” Dial said. “I really liked the marriage of women’s history and education.”
The cozy historical center, in the Cooley-Haze house at 213 W. Malcolm X St., is nestled between Lansing’s downtown, GM’s Grand River Assembly Plant and REO Town. The museum also features rotating exhibits and a fair trade gift shop.
Museum educator is a brand new position at the historical center. While the museum has always had an educational mission, the museum educator position was designed to bring focus and creativity to those efforts.
“The museum educator is in charge of the educational programming for the public,” Dial said. “I envision my role as being the person who can draw in a younger audience.”
Dial plans to create more interactive exhibits and family-friendly programs for the museum. She is also helping to plan the upcoming “Great Girls in Michigan History” exhibit, which will celebrate the accomplishments of young women from Michigan.
One of Dial’s favorite Hall of Fame members is Sarah Emma Edmonds (1841- 1898). Born in New Brunswick, Canada, Edmonds moved to Michigan in 1860. Shortly after, she saw a call for volunteers and enlisted as a Union soldier in the Civil War — disguised as a man.
“She cross-dressed as a soldier in the Civil War,” Dial said.
Edmonds proved to be a valuable spy for the Union, infiltrating Confederate lines 11 times in disguises ranging from a young boy to a dry goods salesman.
“Her best ‘disguise’ was disguising as a woman,” said Dial, with a laugh.
It’s no wonder Dial was drawn to Edmonds’ story. Dial wrote her master’s thesis on British women from the 18th and 19th centuries who disguised themselves as men to serve in the military.
Dial appreciates the diversity of women represented in the hall of fame, from Saginaw-born tennis star Serena Williams and Motown legend Aretha Franklin to women’s suffrage advocate Lucia Grimes and 19th century anti-slavery advocate Laura Haviland.
“We have a rich history here,” Dial said. “We celebrate the accomplishments of all Michigan women.”
Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame
Noon-4 p.m. Wednesday- Saturday; 2-4 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month 213 W. Malcolm X St., Lansing (517) 372-0170, michiganwomenshalloffame. org