Michigan Legal Milestones

The Michigan Legal Milestones program recognizes significant legal cases and personalities in Michigan's history and uses bronze plaques, placed at featured sites, to relate the historical significance. A new milestone is dedicated each year. The Legal Milestone plaques are on display across the state.

The 40th Legal Milestone

40th Legal Milestone

    In 1858, the citizens of Kalamazoo extended free public education beyond the elementary level when they used tax money to construct Kalamazoo Union High School and to fund both elementary and secondary studies.

In 1873, several prominent Kalamazoo citizens filed a lawsuit raising a legal and constitutional challenge to the high school, arguing that tax dollars could only be used to fund primary schools. After an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Thomas M. Cooley penned a unanimous opinion on July 21, 1874, concluding that neither the legislature nor the state constitution restricted the scope of public education. By 1890, there were 278 high schools in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Case changed the landscape of public education in Michigan and served as a landmark for educational reform across the United States.

The 39th Legal Milestone

G. Mennen Williams

    On May 17, 1949, Gov. G. Mennen Williams (center) signs into law the Smith-VanderWerp Act, which accepted Ferris as a gift to the state college system. Third from left is the act's cosponsor, state Senator Colin L. Smith, a Big Rapids attorney and Ferris alumnus.

On May 17, 1949, Michigan's 41st Governor, G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, signed into law the Smith-VanderWerp bill. The law accepted Ferris Institute, a private college founded in 1884, as a gift to be continued as a state institution, so long as the school name and character was maintained.

Submit a nomination for a future Michigan Legal Milestone online or download and complete the Word document.