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CRA030 -- Women's Citizen's Committee Records

CRA 030: Photographs | Sound Recordings | Subject Tracings


1.00 Linear Foot
June 1989
Revised June 2002; April 2007
Inventory Written By: Jennifer M. Grecco


The Women's Citizens Committee Records were donated by Ms. Ida K. Saks and Ms. Hylda Burton.

Property rights in the collection are held by the Calumet Regional Archives; literary rights are dedicated to the public. There are no restrictions on access to the collection.

Linear feet of shelf space: 1 linear foot
Number of containers: 3 boxes
Calumet Regional Archives Collection 30
Processed By: Jennifer M. Grecco

Scope and Content

The Women's Citizens Committee Records document the history of the Women's Citizens Committee (WCC) from 1949 until 1959. The collection contains photographs, newspaper articles, magazine articles, brochures, pamphlets, correspondence, and other personal memoirs of Mrs. Saks and Mrs. Burton (two key people in the WCC), which allow researchers to gain familiarity not only with the activities of the WCC, but also to gain a sense of what life was like in the Calumet Region during the 1950's, particularly in Gary.

The photographs contained in the collection are dated as early as 1949, and as late as 1951. Some photographs are labeled N.D. which stands for "no date". Some photographs are also unidentifiable in terms of subject matter and are labeled accordingly.

As researchers can see by examining the photographic files, the WCC was formed shortly after the death of Mary Cheever on March 3, 1949.

Other photos portray activities of the WCC. The collection boasts photos of the WCC's march on City Hall on March 7, 1949, and "Operation Shoe Leather" in July of 1949.

One can see that leaders such as Ida Saks, Peg Griffith, and Hylda Burton were very instrumental in the dealings of the WCC, as these women are readily identifiable in several photographs. Other such figures of the era, including Reverend Bernard Spong, Metro Holovachka, and David Stanton are also captured on film.

While the photographic collection provides a wonderful display of early WCC activities, it is sparse as far as later dealings. Researchers in search of more "later" photographs should consult the newspaper article files in the collection. The newspaper articles provide perhaps the most thorough chronological explanation of the history of the WCC. Grouped in files according to date, the collection contains articles from 1949-1953; 1955; and 1959.

The newsarticles document the very beginning of the WCC, from the death of Mary Cheever, to the WCC rally in January 1950, to the special meeting held in June of 1959 by the Crime Commission and the WCC to investigate vice and corruption in Lake County, Indiana.

WCC Bulletins are extremely helpful to researchers in search of WCC details.

An oral interview with Beryl A. Brownell, a former WCC member and Post-Tribune reporter, is available in the Archives' oral history collection. The interview contains information regarding the reasons for the end of the WCC, as well as information about the Calumet Region in general during the 50's.

Historical Sketch

On March 7, 1949 roughly 2,000 women gathered at Seaman Hall to form the Women's Citizens Committee, or the WCC. Having felt that Mary Cheever's death was the last straw in their tolerance of crime and corruption in Gary, the women left Seaman Hall and marched towards City Hall, where a council meeting was taking place.

The women demanded that Gary was to be cleaned up. The mayor, Eugene H. Swartz, was given a time limit of two weeks to rid Gary of its vice. As spokesman for the WCC, Ida K. Saks declared, "It's up to you to do something and do it quickly." If the council didn't act, the WCC would call upon the governor.

By March 14, 1949 the WCC had established an executive committee. It consisted of 21 members, plus a board of delegates representing 300 women's groups.

On March 25, a delegation of women went to see governor Henry F. Schricker to discuss Gary's problems.

"The WCC also sponsored a crime commission modeled after a private Chicago organization."2

The WCC launched a program called "Operation Shoe Leather" in July of 1949. Hundreds of volunteers picketed brothels, salons, and gambling houses.

By 1950, the WCC was more concerned with political action to achieve their goals. WCC members began an effort to oust Benjamin Schwartz, the incumbent for county prosecutor. The Crime Commission bugged the office of Deputy Prosecutor Blaz A. Lucas. Publishing "The Microphone Speaks", the WCC and Crime Commission made public the conversations between Lucas and Jack Doyle, and Lucas and other racketeers.

The WCC campaigned for David Stanton effortlessly. He was victorious, but soon encountered problems with Lake Criminal Court Judge William J. Murray.

In 1951, the WCC was concerned with city elections. WCC officer Hylda Burton ran in the primaries for the Democratic ticket as mayor. She came in third. Peter Mandich (a Democrat) won, and surprised reformers by naming James Traeger as police chief. However, Traeger was fired. The WCC was adamantly opposed to the administration since Mandich claimed they were no threat.

By 1952, Metro Holovachka was victorious over Stanton. Holovachka was not interested in dealing with the WCC.

Because of negative feedback, the WCC energies began to slow down. However, "On January 19, 1954, the WCC forced the city council to hold hearings after a nine-year-old child was molested near Froebel School."3

By 1955, headlines in newspapers such as the July 23, 1955 issue of The Chicago Daily News told of conditions in Gary. "Dice, Cards, Girls---Reform Getting Nowhere in Gary". Despite strong setbacks, the WCC continued to strive. Said Mrs. Alma Mackall, chairman of the WCC, in the "Dice, Cards Girls..." article in The Chicago Daily News, "Well, it may be discouraging-but we're not going to give up."

By 1959, the WCC was involved in investigating corruption in Lake County with the Crime Commission. As a June 12, 1959 Gary Post-Tribune article stated: "The first organized local reaction to the just concluded rackets committee hearings will be followed at 8 p.m. Monday by a mass meeting sponsored by the Gary Crime Commission and Women's Citizens Committee." The meeting was scheduled to ask public officials about their future plans to enforce the law in Lake County.

However diligent the WCC's effort was in the final years of its existence, the women were just plain tired. As Beryl Brownell said in a June 21, 1989 interview, the group was exhausted, and feeling very defeated. When the Crime Commission joined forces with the WCC, according to Miss Brownell, it was the beginning of the end for the WCC. The men of the Crime Commission began a secret chase to beat organized crime at their own game. A plan, according to Miss Brownell, that helped to hurt the reformers' effort in the end.


1. Newsweek, "Cities: Gary Cleanup", May 21, 1949, p. 23-24.
2. Lane, James B. City of the Century, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978, p. 247.
3. Ibid, p. 250.

Box File Description
1 1 Chronology, 1949-1950
2 Constitution, WCC, 1949
3 Thesis, Civic Housekeeping 50s Style: Women’s Citizens Committee, Gary,Indiana, by Evelyn Baldwin Miranda 1992
4 Biographical Information, Hylda Burton, 2005,
5 Biographical Information, Ida Saks/Saks
Family, (1950-1956)
6 Newspaper, Lew Wallace Philosopher, Vol. 17,
No. 10, “In Memoriam Issue”(Death of Mary
7 Correspondence and Related Materials, Women’s
Citizens Committee, 1949-1950
8 Newsletters, WCC Bulletin, 1950
9 Transcript, “The Microphone Speaks”, 1950
10 Transcript, WCC Rally, January 1950
11 Instructions and Armbands, Poll Watchers, 1950
12-17 News Articles, WCC Activities,(1949-1959), n.d.
18 Pamphlets and Newsarticles, Gary Senior
19 Pamphlets, Gary, 1947, n.d.
20 Brochures, Prostitution, n.d.
3 1 Article, "The Great Gary Cleanup", McCall's, 1951
2 Article, "What Women Did In Gary", Ladies' Home Journal, 1951
3 Article, "Time for Another Murder", Ladies' Home Journal, 1953
4 Article, “Steeltown Sin”, Man to Man Magazine, 1955
5 Article, “Steel and Sex”, Quick Magazine, May 1955
6 Article, "How We Cleaned up Gary", Male Magazine, 1953
7 Article, "Cities: Gary Cleanup", Newsweek, March 21,
8 Article, "Indiana: Who Killed Mary Cheever", Time,
March 21, 1949
10 Article, "The Angry Housewives of Gary", Cornet, June

Sound Recordings
Records (4), WCC Rally, Jan., 1950.
Cassette Tape. Interview, Beryl A. Brownell, former WCC member, June 21, 1989.

Subject Tracings

  • Community Organizations
  • Crime
  • Gambling
  • Prostitution
  • Women