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Woman of Characters

April 20, 2009—Professor Rosemary Gido created a historical portrayal of three women from the early 1900s—including her great-aunt Anna.

Rosemary Gido

Rosemary Gido

Rosemary Gido

I opened up the Ancestry.com bulletin board entry on the web, the one that indicated there was a message with the name ‘Dvorsky,’ my maiden name.

There, I found a young woman’s posting, a search for information on her great-great grandmother, Anna Dvorsky Colarchick, who had come to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. in 1884 from Slovakia and then settled in the Great Falls, Montana area around the turn of the century, living a long life there to the age of 93.

My hair literally stood on end! Could this be a link to the family members my father told me about as a child, ones he remembered seeing letters and pictures from Montana, but with whom he had no contact after his father’s untimely death at 39 in a coal mining accident in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.? I was ‘surfing the web’ that day using my grandfather Martin Dvorsky’s death certificate, turning to geneaology in my grief following the 10-day-apart deaths of my parents the previous year. This truly seemed a miracle! And after six months of correspondence with the young woman who posted the message and an exchange of death certificates for Anna and Martin, I would find that her great-great grandmother, Anna, was my great-aunt, the older sister of my grandfather, Martin.

—Rosemary Gido, Journal, March 2000

Rosemary Dvorsky Gido is a full professor and criminologist, teaching and conducting research at IUP for almost twelve years. Having worked for the New York State Commission of Corrections as director of Policy, she came to Pennsylvania in 1991 when she, like many NYS government employees, lost their jobs due to the recession. Gido’s vita includes a 2009 edited book on the unmet mental health needs of female offenders across the criminal justice system and a thirty-year history of publications and presentations focused primarily on corrections, alternatives to prison, jails, and HIV-AIDS. The research on AIDS was the first landmark study of the disease in a state prison system, a study designed and implemented by Gido between 1985 and 1990 when the New York State Department of Corrections was trying to deny the existence of AIDS in the system.

Yet, over the years of her career, Gido has considered herself more of a social historian, and the location of the descendants from her paternal side of the family has led to seven research trips to Montana, including a sabbatical in Fall 2007, and the outline of a book proposal that will document the lives of immigrant groups, particularly those from Slovakia, who braved the difficulties of life as coal miners and homesteaders in central Montana between the years 1900 and 1930.

The ACM mine in Belt, Montana

The ACM mine in Belt, Montana evokes pictures of many coal-mining communities in central and southwestern Pennsylvania where soft coal was mined as a source of coke.

Like many towns in the frontier west, Belt, Montana grew into an industrial “feeder” community, with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company’s coal mine and other mines in the surrounding mining camp towns of Stockett and Sand Coulee booming in the peak years of 1896, 1897, and 1898.

(Interestingly, the founder of Belt, Montana, was a mining engineer from Pittsburgh who noticed the rich deposits of soft coal. Many families left the Pennsylvania hard and soft coal regions to seek their fortune mining coal in central Montana.)

Drawn by the call from the Great Northern Railroad for immigrants to settle in Montana, the Dvorsky (great-uncle Joseph followed his sister Anna to Montana) and Colarchick families joined other families—primarily from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Yugoslavia, and Germany—in settling into the area initially to mine coal and then obtain homesteading land as Belt Valley slowly evolved into a farming and stockraising region, yielding wheat and hay and beef cattle. These products became the mainstays of a hard but productive life for the people who chose to stay in spite of dust storms, insect invasions, and severe winters during the 1920s and 1930s.

Anna Dvorsky Colarchick, the family records show, lost three infants under the age of one during the early years of her marriage in Pennsylvania. Following her husband first to Butte, Montana, and then to Belt, she would see ten daughters and one son grow to adulthood in Montana. A strong, very religious, and organized woman, Anna not only broke wild horses, but ran a family business with the aid of her daughters, growing fruits and vegetables and preparing meals first for stagecoach travelers and later the Great Northern Railroad train that came through the property. Rocky Ridge in Raynesford, Mont., just up the road from Belt, became the location for the family’s homestead and large stone house, adjoining her brother Joe’s place. During the difficult years of the 1920s and 1930s, son Cyril would work for seven years to pay off the family debt, finally able in 1935 to marry Estella Crockett, a direct descendent of Davy Crockett. Joe’s son, Henry Vaskey (the name Dvorsky had been changed) and his family would eventually lose their “ranch” to creditors.

Inspired by this family history and having researched primary documents, records, coal company records, newspapers, and audiotapes of coal mining families from the area, Gido returned from her fall 2007 five-week Montana sabbatical and put together an historical portrayal script for the reenactment of four women, including her great aunt Anna, who lived during this era and whose stoic and steadfast labors have often been undocumented in the historical retelling of women’s roles in the west. Presenting the reenactments for an April 2008 IUP Six O’Clock Series and the October 2008 SHE Women’s Consortium at Slippery Rock University, Gido believes she has moved her research to a new, creative stage of development, giving these women a voice that speaks from their memoirs and family remembrances. She is looking forward to returning to Montana and presenting the reenactments there.

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Margaret Bell

Gido as Margaret "Peggy" Bell

Peggy Bell was seventy-five years old in 1947 when she sought help to have her memoirs published. Determined to have her life story told, she would have been described as a “character” with a natural storytelling ability. Documenting her life in central Montana and Canada at the beginning of the homesteading movement, Peggy’s stoic and matter-of-fact account of hard work and abuse at the hands of her stepfather is often chilling. She was particularly proud of her accomplishments in “cowpunching” and knowing something about horses. From Bell, Margaret, When Montana and I Were Young (2002). Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press.

 

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Anna Dvorsky Colarchick

Gido as Anna Dvorsky Colarchick

Anna Dvorsky Colarchick is the great-aunt of Rosemary Gido who honors her with this historical reenactment. Anna first lived in Butte, Mt., where she ran a boarding house. She and her husband then settled in Belt, Mt., where he worked in the coal mines. They acquired homestead land outside of Raynesford, Mt. (“Rocky Ridge”), where they raised eleven children. Anna and her ten daughters provided food for the stagecoach and then for train travelers who came through their property.

 

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Lillian Weston

Gido as Lillian Weston

Lillian Weston was a turn-of the century New York newspaper columnist. Choosing the “proper course” for women of that era, she married Frank Hazen in 1899 and moved to Gilt Edge, Mont., for the first of two frontier experiences. Drawing on her writing skills, Lillian, ever the stoic, chronicled her family’s story in journals and diaries. These records provide insights into the lives of countless families who came to central Montana, encouraged by the federal government to engage in “dry farming.” Lillian’s biting commentary documents the futility of growing wheat in semiarid conditions and the losing battle against the elements during the drought years of the early 1920s. From Litz, Joyce, Lillian’s Granddaughter, The Montana Frontier: One Woman’s West (2004). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

 

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