WHITING – The story is often told through the eyes of males. At the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society, it’s up to women to be recognized.
Visitors not only see women’s fashion as it evolved throughout Whiting’s history, but also see the contribution of 25 special women to the city’s history.
“Not all of them are perfect Whiting women,” said museum curator Gayle Kosalko.
Mary Maotivik had a colorful history. “There were bars, shops, inns for the most part” in that part of Whiting, said museum volunteer Rebecca Haynes. Haynes and Kosalko worked together on the exhibition, which ends on Sunday.
She and her husband, both Polish, ran a saloon and lived upstairs. At that time, the ethnic groups clashed and a Hungarian group attempted to take over their establishment.
“A firefight ensued. Her husband ran upstairs and somehow barricaded himself inside, “Haynes said.” He ends up killing three people, “with two seriously injured.” Everyone says she shot the gun.
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One of the wounded men, cigar maker Jacob Gladstone, survived because the bullet was stopped by a matchbox in his breast pocket.
Maotivik’s tale continues with a murder trial. “We’re trying not to sweeten it,” Kosalko said.
Another honored woman is Mary Bercik, the first woman elected mayor of Indiana. The museum has materials for the campaign, including ashtrays with her name in which cigarette butts would be stuck to extinguish them. She succeeded her husband, William Bercik, who died of a heart attack on a fishing trip to Wisconsin before being elected in 1959.
Helen Kocan is another honoree. She was the national president of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Union of America for more than three decades. The organization sold low-cost life insurance to immigrant families and acted as a social club for women. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked her to meet the ambassador of Slovakia.
The other honorees also have interesting stories. “As small as a population like Whiting is, there are a lot of women who have done important things,” Haynes said. Narrowing the list wasn’t easy.
The women included in the exhibition represent different time periods and different life experiences. “There’s a woman in here who will connect with them,” Haynes said.
The exhibit also includes a look at women’s fashion and other aspects of their lives during the decades since Whiting’s founding.
Clothes, shoes, baby shoes, underwear and cosmetics tell their story. Among Kosalko’s favorites is the fox stole she played with as a child, moving the fox’s jaws as she created dialogue for it.
Haynes was fascinated by “The Modern Method of Birth Control,” a 1943 book that helps revolutionize women’s lives by giving them control over how many babies they would give birth.
Kosalko’s memories were stimulated by a permanent home kit. “She smelled awful, they burned your skin and then you had hair like a French poodle,” she said.
World War II had a dramatic influence on women’s fashion. As women moved into previously female jobs, they began wearing pants to protect themselves from loose clothing that got trapped in industrial machinery.
Other items on display include a look at cleaning and cooking in the past. “The space isn’t very big, but we fill it with everything we can to exhibit,” said Kosalko.
Sunday is the last day of the exhibition. The museum is only open on Sundays, from noon to 4pm
PHOTOS: The women in Whiting’s story