The Rapidian

Free program looks at life of Progressive Era activist: Educator Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss

This local activist was on the forefront of numerous significant community contributions after she arrived in Grand Rapids in 1887.
Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss was one of many area Progressive Era activists at the turn of the century that pushed for reforms.

Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss was one of many area Progressive Era activists at the turn of the century that pushed for reforms. /courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library's History and Special Collections Department

Underwriting support from:

Goss played a key role in many reforms in Grand Rapids during turn of century

Join us Thursday for a free program at the Ford Museum that explores the remarkable life of Goss, an educator, inventor, politician and suffragist.  One of her more noteworthy achievements was her role as  teacher of Michigan's first open air school.  In the summer of 1911, a tent was erected at Sibley School to house "physically subnormal" children in a classroom that would allow them to be continuouly exposed to fresh air in hopes of preventing tuberculosis.

In 1911,  Goss became Michigan’s first teacher of an open air school, a new concept to prevent children from contracting TB..

In 1911, Goss became Michigan’s first teacher of an open air school, a new concept to prevent children from contracting TB.. /courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library's Special History and Special Collections Department

­­­Who was Josephine Ahnefeldt Goss? The question brings a blank stare from most area residents. Yet this local Progressive Era activist was on the forefront of numerous significant community contributions after she arrived in Grand Rapids in 1887 to become principal of Jefferson Street School.  

Join us Thursday night when local historian and educator Marcella Beck looks back at the fascinating life of this remarkable woman. As an educator, inventor, politician and suffragist, Goss was a key player during many progressive reforms in Grand Rapids at the turn of the century to help transform our community to what it is today.

The Progressive Era was a time in American history from the 1890s through the 1920s when the nation was experiencing rapid urbanization and industrialization. Waves of immigrants were arriving into cities where many people were crowded into tenement slums with high rates of disease and infant mortality. Reformers sought to improve living and working conditions for the working-class in hopes of creating greater social justice.

Goss’s career in education spanned more than 50 years until she retired in 1938 as principal of Sigsbee School. As a principal, she instituted innovative programs that continued to shape curriculum and facilities for the next half century. Along the way, Goss served on the Grand Rapids School Board for ten turbulent years between 1897 and 1907.

In the summer of 1911, Grand Rapids became the first city in Michigan to establish an open air school for students described as “physically subnormal.”  As a strong proponent of the program, Goss became its first teacher. A tent was set up on the grounds of Sibley School to allow fresh air to flow through the new classroom in hopes of preventing children from getting tuberculosis.

In the winter, a well-heated portable building was erected at Sigsbee School where windows were open on two sides to allow for fresh air. Goss continued to teach in the open air school that year when she also was appointed principal at Sigsbee, a job she held for 20 years.

Goss also was a supporter of manual training, truant schools and civic improvements ranging from playgrounds to better libraries. In addition to this, she managed to raise two children, preside over the Ladies Literary Club, patent an invention and fight for women’s suffrage.

Beck herself is an accomplished presenter and published author who volunteers extensively at the Grand Rapids Public Library and Museum.  Her program starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, 303 Pearl St. NW.  It is free and open to the public.  Parking in the museum’s lot is free, too.

The event is co-sponsored by the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the Grand Rapids Historical Society and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

Celebrate Women’s History Month by joining us for a delightful evening exploring Goss’s remarkable story!

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse