“Mrs. Blankenburg is widely known in Kalamazoo and Michigan for her patriotic, social and civic activities and club affiliations. She has been keenly interested in historical research, particularly as it concerned her own native county and city.”
–Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 November 1933
One of Kalamazoo’s most distinguished civic leaders during the first half of the 20th century was Frieda Kleinstuck Blankenburg. Born to privilege and social access in 1887, Blankenburg’s parents were the equally public service-minded Caroline and Carl G. Kleinstuck.
Like her pioneering mother, who was the first woman to graduate from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree (1876), Frieda attended her mother’s alma matter, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1909, and a law degree two years later. Though she was admitted to the bar throughout her adult life, Blankenburg never practiced law. Instead, she devoted herself to supporting a wide variety of community organizations and philanthropic activities.
Shortly after graduating with her law degree, Frieda was reported to have discussed her knowledge of state laws with local clubs and associations.
“Mrs. Blankenburg is filling a place among the educators of the world by filling a vacancy which is almost a crime to permit to exist. It is a generous nature that prompts her–just from university study and research, just relieved from the all-absorbing study done by the real devotee in college and university–to spend so much time in giving these instructive lectures on the laws of the state which every man and woman ought to know.”
–Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 June 1912
Blankenburg, like her mother, was involved in suffragist efforts before 1920, as when the newspaper reported that she had hosted a meeting of the Collegiate Branch of the Kalamazoo Equal Suffrage Association at her home. In 1917, she was one of several founders of the county Red Cross unit, and served on its board for the next thirty years. In 1933, she was elected to the City Commission, becoming only the second woman to serve the commission.
Throughout the 1930s, when the Douglass Community Association was attempting to raise enough funds for the building of a brand new facility on Ransom Street, Blankenburg played a supportive role. In the summer of 1935, she hosted a “garden party” fundraiser at her Oakland Drive home, which included attendees from Kalamazoo Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Kalamazoo Branch of American Association of University Women, the Kalamazoo Chapter of DAR, and the Professional Council of Federated Church Women.
A life-long supporter of the Republican Party, Blankenburg chaired the Kalamazoo County Republican Women. Her other contributions include being elected president of the Constance Brown Hearing Society in 1946, and being appointed to the State Mental Health Commission and Michigan Children’s Aid Society. She was active in the Hillcrest Garden Club, the Current Events Club, the Ladies Library Association, and the Lucinda Hinsdale Stone chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Married to Carl C. Blankenburg in 1911, a municipal court judge, the pair had five children (Dorothy, Carl, William, James, and Robert). After a long life of service to her community, Blankenburg died at age 76 in January 1963 and is buried in Mountain Home Cemetery.
Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, October 2023