ruth violin

Ruth Keppel

Courtesy of the Holland Museum Archives



Watch the Documentary Here

Ruth Keppel & Holland, Michigan's

Collective Historical Memory


"Well all my life my main thing was to play the violin - to be the best violinist I could be. There wasn't a day that I didn't practice three or four hours a day. But when I had to give it up, then I turned to my writing. And since then my main goal is to leave my city something worthwhile. And I'm trying to do that with my historical information. And there's not a week goes by but people come and ask me about the history of Holland."

-Ruth Keppel, 1981 Oral History Interview


Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s adage “Well-behaved women seldom make history” has exploded into a feminist cultural phenomenon. Backpacks, t-shirts, bumper stickers and posters are now sold with the quote on them. Despite the popularity of her assertion, Ulrich has said that her words have been taken out of context by readers and businessmen alike. The inadvertent statement was a small sentence in a larger, obscure article about Puritan funerals. Perhaps the popularity of the phrase has developed due to its truth. It is not often we read about ordinary, otherwise well-behaved women in our history books. The women we have come to know as the feminist faces of American history include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Jane Addams, Anne Hutchinson, Eleanor Roosevelt and many others. These women were outspoken, feisty, and non-compliant. They did not settle for the status quo, but instead inserted themselves into whatever fight or cause they deemed appropriate. Because of their behavior, they altered and made history.

But what of the ordinary, well-behaved women? Are their lives somehow less meaningful or worthy of historical examination? Their stories go untold, hidden within attics, basements, or sometimes even local archives. Once examined, these ordinary lives do not seem so ordinary anymore; rather, they become extraordinary stories of people who experienced and lived through the historical events that our historical heroes made. Their perspective deserves analysis, as it illuminates the real story, the story of what really happened in an every day American’s life and family.

Ruth Keppel was one of these ordinary, well-behaved women. She does not appear in history books, even those about Holland, Michigan, a city she lived in for her entire life. Though she was a prominent citizen, recognized for her efforts in preserving the past as an amateur historian, her memory perhaps only exists in the elderly members of the community, who may have knew her from newspaper articles or events. It is likely that most Holland residents have no idea who Ruth Keppel was.

This project seeks to tell Ruth's story, the story of her family and her ancestors. It seeks to link heritage with the present, to understand the traces of the Keppels left behind in present day Holland. Ruth Keppel wanted to do her beloved city some good and leave behind memories that future generations could know as well as she did. She accomplished this many times over and lives on through the historical information she left behind.






  Contact: Madalyn Muncy  

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program at Hope College, Holland, Mich.

Madalyn Muncy, 2012