WHITING — History is often told through the eyes of males. At the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society, it’s the women’s turn to be recognized.
Visitors see not only women’s fashions as they evolved throughout Whiting’s history but also see what 25 special women contributed to the city’s history.
“They’re not all perfect Whiting women,” museum curator Gayle Kosalko said.
Mary Maotivik had a colorful history. “It was bars, shops, boarding houses for the most part” in that part of Whiting, museum volunteer Rebecca Haynes said. Haynes and Kosalko worked together on the exhibit, which ends Sunday.
She and her husband, both Polish, operated a saloon and lived upstairs. At the time, ethnic groups clashed, and a Hungarian group tried to take over their establishment.
“A gun battle ensued. The husband ran upstairs and sort of barricades himself in,” Haynes said. “She winds up killing three people,” with two badly injured. “Everyone says she was the one who fired the shots.”
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One of the injured 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 sugarcoat it,” Kosalko said.
Another of the women honored is Mary Bercik, the first woman elected mayor in Indiana. The museum has campaign materials, including ashtrays with her name where cigarette butts would be jabbed to extinguish them. She succeeded her husband, William Bercik, who died of a heart attack on a fishing trip in Wisconsin, before being elected in 1959.
Helen Kocan is another honoree. She was 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 served as a social club for the women. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked her to meet Slovakia’s ambassador.
The other honorees all have interesting stories as well. “As small a population as Whiting has, there are a lot of women who have done prominent things,” Haynes said. Narrowing the list wasn’t easy.
Women included in the exhibit represent different time periods and different life experiences. “There’s a woman in here who’s going to connect with them,” Haynes said.
The exhibit also includes a look at women’s fashions and other aspects of their lives during the decades since Whiting was founded.
Dresses, shoes, baby shoes, undergarments 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 intrigued by “The Modern Method of Birth Control,” a 1943 book that help revolutionize women’s lives by giving them control over how many children they would bear.
Kosalko’s memories were prompted by a home permanent kit. “They smelled horrible, 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 jobs formerly held by women, they began wearing pants to protect themselves from loose clothing getting caught in industrial machinery.
Other items on exhibit include a look at cleaning and cooking in the past. “The space isn’t very big, but we fill it with as much to exhibit as we can,” Kosalko said.
Sunday is the final day for the exhibit. The museum is open Sundays only, noon to 4 p.m.
PHOTOS: Women in Whiting history