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21Country: The Women of Wabash

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WABASH, Ind. (WPTA21) - March is Women’s History Month, and ABC21 visited the Wabash County Historical Museum to learn about several female leaders that paved the way for Hoosiers, and Americans.

Despite its smaller population, Wabash County boasts impressive names from its history.

Archivist TJ Honeycutt shared more on the museum’s displays, featuring “The Women of Wabash”.

Frances Slocum

At the age of 5, Frances Slocum was kidnapped by Delaware Indians from her home in Pennsylvania.

Slocum was later given, and adopted by Native Americans in the Miami tribe, and raised in Kekionga (now known as Fort Wayne).

She would later marry Miami Chief Shepoconah in the 1790’s.

Their union would play a crucial role in preserving the Miami tribe in Northeast Indiana.

“When the Indian removal act was put through Congress, as a result of her having actually been white, it protected her family in the Miami and the rest of the tribe generally in the area, from removal,” Honeycutt told us.

Slocum would later meet a fur trader who helped reconnect her to her biological family in Pennsylvania.

They visited her in Indiana, but she refused to return to live with them, instead remaining in the area.

The museum showcases her wearing blanket and other clothing items.

Slocum died March 9, 1847.

Crystal Gayle

Crystal Gayle’s family moved to Wabash when she was 4-years-old. 

She comes from a large family which includes other talented singers like Loretta Lynn and Peggy Sue.

Gayle performed early and often, at venues across the state and local bars.

At 18, her career was launched with her first record.

In addition to pictures, records, and clothing, the museum also has three awards from Gayle’s time at Wabash High School.

Crystal Gayle has 18 No. 1 Music Hits and dozens of awards and honors.

The successful singer also maintains ties to Wabash, performing at The Eagles Theatre after it was renovated in 2020.

Margie Stewart

“Margie Stewart was a local girl who ended up going to college at IU, took some modeling work for the Sears catalogue… then the second World War broke out,” Honeycutt described.

Her career would drastically change.

The archivist told us the military was searching for “a new face” to combat circulating images of pinup girls.

“They wanted to look for somebody that was maybe… a little more ‘reasonable’ and down-to-earth,” he continued.

Officials found her in the Sears catalogue, invited her to Washington D.C. and soon, her face would be printed on nearly a hundred-million posters, distributed during the war.

Stewart would also star in military training videos in Hollywood.

“She was very well known at the time and was a major part of the United States world war II war effort,” Honeycutt said.

“She answered fan mail for the rest of her life and kept up with every veteran that wrote to her, Honeycutt added.

Margie Stewart visited the museum in 2008, four years before she died.

Gene Stratton-Porter

Born in Lagro, Gene Stratton-Porter launched a successful career in nature photographer, naturalism, and publishing.

When she started writing her own books, her fame took off even more, as she became one of the most widely read female authors of her time.

Notable works include “The Song of the Cardinal”, “Freckles” and “The Girl of the Limberlost”.

Stratton-Porter also advocated for wetland preservation.

“Most of her stories tied back to Wabash County, and she slots in people she knew in real life, and places she knew in real life, basically dressing them into the story,” Honeycutt told us, ”she actually was an early adopter of transitioning books into movies, and was one of the first women owners of a film production company where she was turning her own books into movies.”

Gene Stratton-Porter’s cabin sits in Rome City along Sylvan Lake. 

Much of her personal items are preserved inside.

Adelaid Steele Baylor

“Adelaid Steel Baylor was a local lady who ended up rising to the rank of superintendent was the first women to ever do so in the state of Indiana,” Honeycutt said.

She had a passion for education, and her leadership caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson.

"Our thoughts and energies must center not upon the annihilation of the old, but upon the building of the new."

Adelaid Steele Baylor

The commission she was on, created the foundation for home economics - lessons that would later be adapted into classrooms across the country.

Reflecting on “The Women of Wabash” Honeycutt ended with this: “Women are often overlooked, and especially in a small county, our history in general is often overlooked, and its a very rewarding experience to be an advocate for that history and to show what people from a county like this can do on a national level.”

The Wabash County Historical Museum (36 E. Market Street, Wabash, IN 46992) is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The museum closes a half hour earlier from its normal time, due to COVID-19 cleaning precautions.

Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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