Anna Sutherland Bissell
She was born in River John, Nova Scotia, the daughter of a sea captain. At an early age her family moved to Michigan were they settled. Years later at 19 she married Melville R. Bissell and became a joint partner in their crockery and china business. The Bissell Sweeper website recounts that Mrs. Bissell complained to her husband about sawdust that collected in their carpets and was difficult to remove, whereupon he made great improvements to a new invention called the carpet sweeper. When he invented the Bissell carpet sweeper in 1876, Anna Bissell became a salesperson traveling from town to town selling the sweeper for $1.50.
After her husband’s death in 1889, Bissell became chief executive officer of the company. She established new guidelines on trademarks and patents and moved Bissell carpet sweepers into the international market. By 1899 she had created the largest organization of its kind in the world. As president of the corporation and chairman of the board, Bissell introduced progressive labor policies including workman’s compensation and pension plans long before these practices were widespread in industry.
It was said of her that she “Studied business the way other women of her time studied French.” She kept pace with the growing complexities of industrialism and knew every facet of the Bissell production.
She was a charter member of the Ladies Literary Club, a life member of the Women’s City Club and an active member of Zonta. She was also one of the best singers, most people did not know this but during lunch breaks she would often perform for her peers. She served on the board of The Clark Memorial Home, and was for years the sole woman member of the National Hardware Men’s Association.
Bissell was a generous philanthropist. She was the first woman trustee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was actively involved in Bissell House, a recreation and training program for Grand Rapids, Michigan youth and immigrant women. She also served on the board of what was to become Blodgett Home for Children.
- Anna Sutherland Bissell, Greater Grand Rapids History Council
- 1923 passport photo Anna Bissell(courtesy flickr.com)
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