Suggested Research Topics - Gerald R. Ford and the Political Reform Movement in Grand Rapids
During and after World War II, a political reform movement arose in Grand Rapids which eventually wrestled control of the Republican Party and municipal government from the political machine controlled by Republican National Committeeman Frank McKay and City Manager and Mayor George Welsh. The leadership of the movement came heavily from University of Michigan alumni and friends who were prominent in Grand Rapids business and civic endeavors. In 1948, as part of the reform effort, a former Michigan football star and returning war veteran, Gerald R. Ford, successfully challenged a long-time incumbent congressman in the Republican primary. This challenge launched Ford's career which eventually culminated in his rising to the presidency of the United States. Though later considered a party "loyalist" and a "conservative," Gerald Ford began his political career as a reform candidate against an entrenched party leadership.
What motivated the formation of the reform movement in Grand Rapids? What were its goals? Who were its leaders? What were its tactics? Who were its opponents, and how did they respond? Why did the reformers turn to Gerald Ford, a political novice, in their bid to unseat an incumbent congressman in the primary? What role did Grand Rapids native U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who was elected under the old regime, play in the campaign and in Gerald Ford's subsequent political career? Why did Vandenberg, a dark-horse candidate for the presidency in 1948, assume this role?
Examples of Primary Source Collections and Other Resources:
At the Bentley Library:
- Frank D. McKay, leader of the Republican Party in Grand Rapids and member of the Republican National Committee, 3 feet and 2 outsized scrapbooks.
- George W. Welsh, Grand Rapids city manager and mayor, 17 items (more extensive materials available at the Grand Rapids Public Library).
- Bartel J. Jonkman, Republican Congressman from Grand Rapids (1940-48), 1 foot.
- Stanton W. Todd, leader of the Hone Front campaign against the supporters of Frank McKay for control of the Kent County Republican Party, 1 foot. See especially his reminiscences and his letters to his son following Gerald Ford's selection as President.
- Willard B. VerMeulen, Home Front leader, 1 foot.
- Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, Fountain Street Church, a center of the reform movement. Records of the Rev. Duncan Littlefair: sermons (box 4), comments on sermons (boxes 9-11), and correspondence (boxes 14 and 15).
- Dorothy Judd, reform leader, especially boxes 9-11.
- Paul G. Goebel, leader in the Home Front and Citizens Action. Elected reform mayor of Grand Rapids in 1950. See especially scrapbooks in box 8.
- A. Robert Kleiner, Democratic member of the bipartisan municipal reform group Citizens Action, especially Citizens Action scrapbooks, in box 12.
- Arthur H. Vandenberg, U.S. Senator from Grand Rapids (1928-51). Correspondence in box 3 and newspaper clippings in box 5.
- Ralph Smith scrapbooks on Arthur Vandenberg. See his card index for exact location of Gerald Ford articles.
At the Gerald R. Ford Library:
Oral history interviews regarding Grand Rapids politics, the efforts
against the McKay machine, and the 1948 congressional campaign with:
- Philip W. Suchen
- Kay Clark
- Paul Goebel
- Dorothy Judd
- Willard VerMeulen
- Neil A. Weather
- The Gerald R. Ford scrapbooks, circa 1942-1950.
In an effort to encourage creative thinking about possible research topics for students unfamiliar with archives and their inevitable complexities, archivists and student employees of the Bentley Historical Library have authored "suggested research topics ." The purpose of these is not to define a topic but rather to stimulate thinking about a topic where the holdings of the Bentley Library are particularly strong.