Ferndale’s Elizabeth Bauer headed to Women’s Hall of Fame

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 18, 2013


FERNDALE — The first time Elizabeth Bauer walked into an institution and saw disabled children being denied the right to a good life and a good education, she said she knew she wanted to help provide those kids with the opportunities they deserved.

That was 1958, when Bauer was a speech pathology major in college and just learning about the mentally and physically disabled. Almost a decade later in 1967, Bauer gave birth to her third child, one born with profound disabilities.

“My daughter couldn’t move on her own, and she couldn’t swallow on her own, and the doctors told us to put her away and forget her,” Bauer, 75, said. “What I was doing for disabled children for almost 10 years on a philosophical purpose was now at home. I talked to every judge and state senator all over Pennsylvania, advocating for the right to education, and my daughter got to go to school when she was 5.”

Bauer’s passion for maintaining and improving the rights of the disabled didn’t stop in the 1960s, as she moved her family to Michigan in 1975 and continued to support those who couldn’t support themselves.

Next month, Bauer, who now lives in Ferndale, will be inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame as part of the 30th anniversary class for her efforts working for the rights of people with disabilities and advocating for inclusive communities and schools. Tricia and Calvin Luker, who worked alongside Bauer for several years, nominated her.

“To be nominated by people you worked side by side with is a real honor, because who knows more about you than people you worked with along the journey?” Bauer said. “This gives an opportunity to not so much celebrate me and what I’ve done, but the quest for justice for all and the quest for an inclusive society. No one person could have done this alone, and I hope my work brought people together so they could organize and advocate for change.”

Every year, the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame inducts historical — deceased — women, along with contemporary — living — women into the Hall of Fame. This year, there are six contemporary and 13 historical women being inducted.

Executive Director Sandy Soifer said the center received about 100 nominations this year, which had to be looked through by two panels of judges before the Michigan Women’s Studies Association board voted on the final inductees.

The 30th anniversary class will join nearly 270 women already in the Hall of Fame, which is located in Lansing, as they are honored during a dinner Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.

“These women are tremendous role models for women coming after them, and they set examples in many different areas of achievement,” Soifer said. “People are familiar with the names they know, like Rosa Parks, but the women who you haven’t heard of have stories and accomplishments that are equally as remarkable.”

Once Bauer got started advocating for the disabled, she moved to New York and started standing up for education rights in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She said doctors routinely told parents the same thing she heard when her disabled daughter was born.

“Doctors (often) told parents to send their kids away and forget them and not to visit them,” she said. “I grew up in Minneapolis and I’d never seen a kid with a disability, but I looked at those kids in 1958, and I said they belonged with families and they belonged in schools. I knew I had to get them out of there, and that was what I was going to do with my life.”

After moving to Michigan, Bauer worked on influencing the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, as well as the national Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, even receiving one of the pens President George H. W. Bush used to sign the act.

In 2002, Bauer was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education, where she served until 2010. Last year, Bauer helped open WAY Academy in Detroit, with a second campus opening this fall.

“I fundamentally believe that all people are valuable and should have lives where they experience high-valued lives and are respected in their communities,” Bauer said. “It doesn’t matter if it is about disabilities or racial or any dimension of life where people are discriminated against — that needs to be corrected. We need to see beyond the differences and see the commonalities.”

For more information on the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame, visit www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org.