Helen Milliken

Thirty-four years ago, when Debbie Stabenow was a newly elected state representative in a very male-dominated legislature, she got the first of a number of encouraging notes from an older woman who had spent a lot of years in the fishbowl of politics.

Those notes meant a lot to Stabenow, as she went on to become a force to be reckoned with in first the state house and then the senate; in Congress and  finally in the U.S. Senate.

What made that support all the more remarkable is that Stabenow is a Democrat. And the woman who reached out to her was the wife of the Republican governor, Helen Milliken, perhaps the least likely and most effective feminist in Michigan history.

David Defoe / flickr

This week Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss how Michigan will comply with the Affordable Care Act, and how the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Michigan's constitutional ban on affirmative action does not hold up under the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. Lessenberry also remembered the late former first lady, Helen Millikin.

She was once a shy young woman from a wealthy family who typed her young husband’s papers for him when he was finishing college. She raised two children, worked in her garden, and dreamed of a degree in landscape architecture.

Later, she found her voice, and inspired other women to do so as perhaps no other Michigan woman ever has. She was a crusader for the arts, and the moving force and the first chair of the Michigan Artrain. She was in her fifties when she joined the National Organization for Women, and began fighting vigorously, if unsuccessfully, for the Equal Rights Amendment.

hall.michiganwomen.org

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Helen Wallbank Milliken, who was Michigan's longest-serving first lady and a staunch supporter of women's rights and the environment, has died. She was 89.

Son William Milliken Jr. says she died Friday morning at the family's Traverse City home.

Early in her husband's political career, Milliken dutifully played the role of unassuming, supportive spouse. But she evolved into an outspoken advocate of issues close to her heart during a record 14 years as first lady.