Historic women of Mackinac Island

With old forts, gorgeous Victorian architecture and a horse-drawn culture, Mackinac Island is steeped in history. Names of influential men including Jacques Marquette, Edward Biddle, Charles O’Malley, Rome Murdick and Harry Ryba may come to mind. But did you know that much of Mackinac Island history has been shaped in large part by women?

From the island’s years as a pivotal military and economic hub in the Colonial era to its transition into a world-renowned vacation destination, several women have been at the forefront. Here is a look at just a few of the prominent women who have had a hand in making Mackinac Island into what it is today:

Infographic with timeline of significant moments in the lives of women who have helped shape Mackinac Island

5 women who helped make Mackinac Island

  • Margaret Doud holds the distinction of being America’s longest-serving mayor, having led Mackinac Island’s year-round population of about 500 residents since 1975. Born and raised on Mackinac Island, Doud was crowned the island’s Lilac Queen in 1963 and later taught kindergarten at Mackinac Island Public School for a few years before becoming mayor. She has won re-election annually for a half-century while also running the Windermere Hotel, which dates to 1887. Built as one of the early private family cottages on Mackinac Island, the Windermere was converted into a resort hotel by Doud’s great-uncle after the turn of the century and remains a popular place to stay for visitors. In addition to her leadership in island tourism, Doud during her tenure as mayor has overseen many important projects including construction of the Mackinac Island Medical Center.


  • While the Windermere dates to 1887, it wasn’t the first summer cottage built on Mackinac Island. The 1880s launched a period of Victorian cottage construction that lasted about 20 years and to this day makes for great sightseeing on a bike ride, architectural walking tour or horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island. When the U.S. Congress established Mackinac National Park (the second national park in the country, following Yellowstone), it required that the park be self-supporting. This happened through the lease of federal land for private cottages. The first such cottage in what was then Mackinac National Park (now Mackinac Island State Park) was built by Phoebe Gehr, a woman from Chicago who leased a lot on the island’s East Bluff and oversaw construction that was completed in 1885. Several early Mackinac Island cottages are available to rent for your visit.


  • The reason the federal government needed lease revenue to fund Mackinac National Park is because U.S. Sen. Thomas Ferry pushed for the island to become a national park in the first place. Ferry was born on Mackinac Island to the Rev. William Ferry and Amanda White Ferry, Presbyterian missionaries who arrived in the 1820s at the height of the fur trade and established a Protestant mission here. Amanda played an active role in the mission and its school and to this day the Mission Church is the oldest-surviving church building in Michigan. It’s one of a few old church buildings that make perfect venues for Mackinac Island wedding ceremonies and one of the reasons Mackinac Island is such a wedding destination.


  • On the island’s East Bluff just up from Fort Mackinac is Anne’s Tablet, one of many unique landmarks on Mackinac Island. This one memorializes 19th-century writer Constance Fenimore Woolson, who visited Mackinac Island as a child and set her first novel, “Anne,” on the island. The tablet features an image of Anne and an excerpt from the novel that gives a glimpse of Mackinac Island’s natural beauty, which continues to make it an attractive vacation destination still today. Like so many places on Mackinac Island, Anne’s Tablet is a beautiful place to discover.


  • Years before Woolson arrived on vacation, Mackinac Island was sought by European immigrants as a key point of military control in the Great Lakes fur trade since it’s located in the narrow straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Magdelaine La Framboise became a major player in that industry through the first half of the 19th century, before Mackinac Island transitioned into a vacation destination. Known as the “First Lady of Mackinac,” La Framboise is perhaps Michigan’s most famous female pioneer. She was half Native-American and half French-Canadian, born in 1780 to the daughter of an Odawa Indian chief. La Framboise married a French-Canadian fur trader in her teens and, after her husband was murdered, successfully carried on the business as a widow fluent in French, English, Odawa and Chippewa. She retired wealthy on Mackinac Island, where she started the island’s first school. La Framboise was buried at Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church and her home on the island – Chateau La Framboise – became the main house of the Harbour View Inn, one of many historic places to stay on Mackinac Island.


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