While living in Waupun, WI, and nine years before coming to what is now Marshall, Charles H. Whitney married Mary A. Wirt on October 28, 1860. Mary was the daughter of Elder Noah and Fannie Wirt and was born in Willoughby, Ohio on July 22, 1843.
Mrs. Whitney made a name for herself during a period in history when women held no real importance in a society dominated by men. It is true that her recorded accomplishments were related to “women’s work” such as cooking, but she did make it into the annals of history by being the person who named the town of “Marshall.”
One day in July 1872 Engineer John Blake dashed into the village upon a “sweat-dripping” pony which he had ridden from Lamberton. He found Whitney and told him that the railroad engineers and officers were headed for the village, and they must have supper when they got here. The time was 4:30 p.m. Immediately Mrs. Whitney began gathering all the food supplies that she could get her hands on, calling upon other county residents for food donations.
When the railroad men arrived, she served them, according to Mr. Blake, “a meal fit for princes, and the wonder of all was that such an extensive array of viands could have been collected and prepared upon such short notice and upon the open prairie. A large number of people came with the party, but only the ’high joints’ sat down to the repast in the (engineer’s) office.”
During the meal the railroad men discussed the naming of the station. It was customary that rail stations and the village be named after one of the officials. No agreement could be made so it was suggested, and all agreed, that Mrs. Whitney should choose a name. It could be said that Mrs. Whitney “was not born yesterday”. She had heard the discussion and realized that choosing any of the men present to receive such an honor would make enemies of the others. So she adroitly avoided an embarrassing situation by selecting the name “Marshall” after the post office conducted by her husband. The name was accepted by all, whereupon they all went outside and with a “libation of water sprinkled upon the ground” Gen. Smith baptized the new town. Smith gave a little speech “in which he urged upon Marshall’s foster parents the duty of using their influence in the cause of temperance within its limits.”
Another example of Mrs. Whitney’s capabilities included finishing the construction of a coffin for a 14-year-old girl who had died of scarlet fever in September of 1871. Mr. Whitney had begun building the coffin but became exhausted after also fighting a raging prairie fire. In an atmosphere of dense smoke Mrs. Whitney spent the night caring for her husband and finishing the coffin so that the body could be buried the next morning.
Original artist Jim Dahl was commissioned to create the Mrs. Whitney statue. Also included in the “Artist Team” were mentors Jim Swartz and John Sterner. Following the untimely death of Jim Dahl in August of 2012, the project committee chose John Sterner as the new artist. John’s work is well known throughout southwest Minnesota. “We wanted to be true to Jim’s vision,” said Jim Swartz, project committee lead. “John is a talented artist that had been working with Jim Dahl as a mentor and a colleague. He is familiar with this project, which pays tribute to Mar-shall’s artistic and historical past. I can’t think of a better solution to keep Jim’s vision alive.”
Marshall native John Sterner graduated from both Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University with a BS in Art Education as well as a Master’s degree in Science and Education. He has also coached both wrestling and football. Some of Sterner’s metal sculptures can be found on the SMSU campus, at the Mar-shall High School, in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota area, as well as in the Twin Cities area.
Mrs. Whitney Statue Dedication
Mrs. Whitney statue revealed in special ceremony
MARSHALL - More than 100 years ago, Mary Whitney was present for the city of Marshall's beginnings, and she even gave the town its name. On Sunday, the efforts of Marshall's modern-day residents to honor her came to fruition.
"I want to say, 'Welcome, Mrs. Whitney, on your return to Marshall,'" said Ellayne Conyers, as she addressed the audience at a ceremony in Liberty Park.
City officials and Marshall area community members unveiled a bronze statue of Whitney in front of a crowd of about 50 people. As partitions were moved away to reveal the sculpture, there was applause and even a few gasps.