New exhibitions at the Sturgis Historical Museum

The Sturgis Au Dépôt Historical Museum will be open this weekend from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Masks will be compulsory for visitors and volunteers.

When winter hours started at the end of September, the museum’s partners weren’t expecting to stay closed for that long, said Jenifer Blouin Policelli, director.

2020 has been full of surprises and disruption, albeit nothing to do with the disruption in the nation caused by the Civil War, which is one of the new exhibits ready for visitors to the museum.

Shedding light on the Civil War had been in the plans from the start as “Journey of the 11th,” the latest “Windows to Our Past” documentary from creator and historian Mike Mort, was scheduled to premiere at Sturgis Fest 2020, which was canceled.

The documentary had to be postponed, but now the museum’s exhibit is ready, bringing to life the great disruption that took place 159 years ago.

Also on display in the museum’s south hall, a tribute honoring 100 years of women’s rights: the 19th Amendment.

Included are documents and accounts of Sturgis women who were revolutionaries both in the suffrage movement and in the temperance movement that went with it.

A family register on loan is from the VanderHults family. There is listed an ancestor, Jonathan Wait, co-founder of Sturgis, who according to 1877 “History of St. Joseph County Michigan,” helped bring the railroad to town, was a state senator, and a launched the Sturgis Journal.

His wife, Susan Wait, with 12 children, is listed as an active Republican in the women’s rights movement. His religion is listed as “spiritualism and medium”. The family was instrumental in founding Free Church, a spiritualist church.

Of particular interest to Policelli is the fact that in the mid-1880s Susan was a feminist. Sturgis was a frontier town, not a place one would expect to find progressive ideas like giving women the right to vote, she said.

Lena Wise’s record is also on display. She was very active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In his Bible, on loan from his descendant Ken Wise, is a ribbon of a WCTU meeting held in Sturgis.

The two movements are closely linked in history, Policelli said.

Amelia Earl, a summer intern and 2018 graduate of Sturgis High School, is also new to The Depot. She assists Policelli and the team of volunteers.

The frequency of opening of the museum is uncertain.

“We don’t know if we will be able to maintain our normal schedules after this weekend,” Policelli said.

It will depend on whether visitors want to enter, whether the volunteers feel safe and comfortable and how fluent the pandemic is.

Summer hours could be by appointment only, she said.

The best way to stay up to date is by looking at the Sturgis Historical Museum at The Depot Facebook page and Instagram feeds.

Jenifer Blouin Policelli, director of the Sturgis Historical Museum At The Depot, has loaned new items that link Sturgis women to the 100th anniversary of the women's suffrage movement.

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