Michgander Monday: Eleanore Hutzel

Happy Women’s History Month! It might be almost over, but there’s still time for me to celebrate one of my favorite Michigan women: Eleanore Hutzel. If you live in the Detroit area, you might recognize her last name and wonder if she’s connected to Hutzel Women’s Hospital, a part of the DMC. Yep, that hospital was named after her. She was highly involved with that institution for most of her life. The hospital wasn’t the only place where she made her mark, however. She also started up a Women’s Division of the Detroit Police Department in 1922. Eleanore Hutzel was a fascinating woman who made a huge impact through her work caring for the women and children who needed it most.

Hutzel was born on September 8, 1885 in Ann Arbor. Little is known about her childhood. In 1910, at the age of 25, she moved to Detroit to study nursing at Harper Hospital and Women’s Hospital. Her work as a nurse made her more aware of the difficulties poor women faced, which led to her interest in social services. It wasn’t long before she moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago’s School of Social Services. After graduating, she returned to Detroit to serve as the Director of Social Services at Women’s Hospital. A true product of the progressive age, she used her position to champion a number of programs to help women and infants, particularly unwed mothers and their children.

Women’s Hospital started in 1868 with an “open door” policy, meaning that they accepted patients regardless of their ability to pay or personal situation. Initially, women unable to pay had to work off their debt, but that practice ended in 1916, soon after Hutzel returned. Hutzel worked largely with the Department of Dependent Mothers and Infants, which mostly served unmarried mothers  – in 1921 82% of the infants born under care from the department were “illegitimate” (a term that sounds unnecessarily harsh today but typical of the time). Besides maternity care, the department also operated Valley Farm Home north of the city, where pregnant women and new mothers in need of care and assistance could reside outside of the immediate time of delivery. These women were expected to use their time at the home to learn infant care, domestic skills and a profession they could use to support themselves once they left. The goal was not just to see these women through delivery of their child, but also to set them up for a better life. Another impressive program, particularly for the time, was the Detroit Bureau of Wet-Nurses. Started in 1914, the bureau’s goal was to provide wet-nurses and breast milk to infants that needed it. This program allowed nursing mothers with an oversupply to earn money by either serving as a wet-nurse or providing extra milk to the program, which then redistributed it to infants in the hospital or mothers unable to nurse. The wet-nurse part of the program proved unpopular, but the distribution of breast milk was very popular and demand increased yearly. Hutzel tried to spread the word about the program, its popularity and its benefits through an article in Mother and Child, a magazine published by the American Child Hygiene Association.

Her involvement with social services led her to a position on the board of the Girls’ Protective League, an organization that aimed to look after unsupervised women and children on the streets. This activity lead to Eleanore’s next major career change – to policewoman. She organized the Women’s Division of the Detroit Police Department to assist the police department with handling cases involving women and children. After a trial period of six months, the division became a full part of the department and Hutzel became its chief. She later wrote that changing conditions (presumably industrialization and the growth of cities) had started to bring large groups of women and girls to the attention of the police, and that they presented problems better handled by women than by men. Her vision of a policewoman’s role was closely intertwined with social services. She felt that police work with women functioned best when in full cooperation with a social services department, to which women and children could be referred for assistance and rehabilitation. Nonetheless, she understood the need for traditional police activities as well. In “The Policewoman’s Handbook,” published by Hutzel in 1933, she provides instruction in patrol work, investigation, criminal law procedure and more.

She also foresaw a number of issues for the policewomen themselves that are still issues for working women today. When discussing qualifications for policewomen, she states that they must be as well or better qualified than policemen. Cities with well qualified policewoman have accepted their role in policing society, while cities where the policewomen were less qualified have insisted that women cannot fulfill the role. She also advocated for equal pay for policewomen, due to the fact that they have the same qualifications and duties as the men. According to one survey in the 1930s, about half of the police departments with women’s divisions paid them less than then men, and another half (including Detroit) paid them the same.

Eleanore Hutzel never ceased caring about social issues or serving the people of Michigan. In 1953, after retiring from the police force, she was appointed to Michigan’s new six-member corrections commission, which took control of the state’s prison system. She also never entirely left Women’s Hospital. She served as a trustee for many years, and in 1965 the hospital honored her service by renaming itself Hutzel Women’s Hospital. Hutzel died in 1979 but her legacy lives on at Michigan’s only nationally recognized hospital devoted to women’s health. In 1999, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame as recognition of her importance to Michigan’s history.

Do you have a favorite woman from Michigan’s history? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter! The month may be nearly over, but we can celebrate women’s history all year long!

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