POULSBO — Bank tellers. Bookkeepers. Ferry captains. Mayors. Plant workers. Postmasters. Publishers.
Go back to the earliest days of settlement-era Poulsbo and women were helping to shape the development and life of the community. Not that there weren’t glass ceilings — but, while a man might have been at the wheel, it was women who kept the machine running smoothly.
“If it hadn’t been for some of the women, things might not have gotten done or might not have happened,” said Donna Jean Bruce, a Poulsbo civil service commissioner and former mayor.
Indeed. In fact, historian Judy Driscoll notes, women had to “step in and run things” when their farmer or merchant husbands went off to fish for as long as six months a year. Or, as in the case of Thina Hostmark, they ran the shop when their husbands died. Mrs. Hostmark continued to run her husband Adolph’s store, and served as postmaster of Poulsbo, from 1895-98 after her husband’s death.
The contributions of women to Poulsbo’s development and community life are detailed in an exhibit, “Women At Work,” at the Poulsbo Historical Museum. The museum (www.poulsbohistory.org) is located in City Hall and is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Artifacts, photographs and text introduce the visitor to professions that were important to community life and the women who served in those roles. Among them, you’ll meet newspaper reporter Josephine Iverson (1861-1943), who with her legislator husband published the Kitsap County Herald; Margaret Bergman (1872-1948), a weaver who designed and patented two looms; Capt. Sarah Blossom-Hattrick of the Washington State Ferries; and June Atack (1926-2011), first woman elected to the City Council and first woman elected mayor.
The exhibit also documents societal changes.
“My mother worked in the bank forever and retired as assistant cashier, and I worked in the bank for 15 years. It seemed men were in higher-authority positions, but it was the women who did the bookkeeping, etc.,” Bruce said of growing up in Poulsbo in the 1940s and 1950s. “There were always women teachers. I’m not sure women were on the school board; it was mostly male, if I recall right. Today, we have women police officers, we have women firefighters. When I was growing up, women wouldn’t have even thought of being in those positions. There have been lots of changes. And it’s still changing.”
One area of public life that those changes are clear is local government. Poulsbo had been incorporated for 70 years before Atack was elected to its council and then as mayor. Atack’s management style was controversial. She investigated reports that employees had used city equipment for personal use, hired a consultant to study and make recommendations for changes in the police department, and challenged council members who had moved beyond serving as council liaisons with different departments to managing those departments.
In the ensuing controversy, she and five council members resigned in 1985 after a public vote of no confidence. But she stayed involved in the community, working as a counselor for battered women at the ALIVE shelter, serving as a board member of Kitsap ParaTransit, and advocating for affordable housing. Her courage in challenging the status quo opened the door for other women. Of the four ensuing mayors, three have been women.
“In my mind, that kind of started it, that women became more and more involved politically,” Bruce said.
The exhibit is the latest of several exhibits presented by the museum since it opened in 2011. Other exhibits include a celebration of the centennial of the Pacific Coast Codfish Co.; “Millinery for Milady,” showcasing the history, styles and etiquette of hats as worn by early Poulsbo women; “When the World was Fair,” on the preparation for and the opening of the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962; and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” on Poulsbo’s love affair with America’s pastime.
The Poulsbo Historical Society manages the heritage museum in City Hall and the Martinson Cabin museum at Viking Avenue and Lindvig Way. The society conducts walking tours of downtown and hosts presentations related to Poulsbo’s history. Driscoll, Sherry White and society volunteers authored a photo history of Poulsbo, to be published in August by Arcadia Publishing. All proceeds will benefit the society and museum.