One of the outstanding personalities of the Bridgeport community and a leader in the field of music was Mrs. Mary E. Whittaker of 608 North Main St. She was born in Lawrence County and earned a reputation of aggressiveness, sincerity and honesty.
Mrs. Whitaker, whose maiden name was Wickey, was born in Bridgeport on June 27, 1878, and was a long lifelong resident of that community. Joseph C. Whittaker and Mary E. Wickey were married on August 21, 1901. The young couple were ambitious and for years Mr. Whitaker operated one of the leading stores of the county in Bridgeport.
A graduate of the schools of Bridgeport, Mrs. Whitaker attended St. Mary’s of the Woods, near Terre Haute, for one year followed by three years at Jacksonville Illinois Female Academy and Forest Park University at St. Louis to complete a rounded educational background. She graduated from Kroeger School of Music in St. Louis in 1915, and continued to study there for two years. In 1916 she passed the Illinois State Teachers’ examination in piano, violin, theory, harmony and music history. She continued her studies at Cincinnati Conservatory of music, majoring in piano.
Joining the Bridgeport Township High School faculty she taught orchestra, harmony and music history for 11 years. Eighteen of Mrs. Whitaker’s pupils became successful music teachers and many others served as organist in churches and organizations.
She operated a music studio in Bridgeport for many years. Mrs. Whitaker accepted a position in the Bicknell, Indiana, school system and later opened a studio there that operated for more than 19 years. Studios in Vincennes, Washington and Monroe City, Indiana added hundreds of students to her large list of pupils who appreciated music more, due to her efforts.
Mrs. Mary E. Whitaker, known to many people in Lawrenceville and Bridgeport as the ‘music instructor of the county,’ announced that she was retiring after 53 years in the music teaching profession in 1957 at age 79. However, she began teaching at age 15 before she attended college and received her formal education.
Mrs. Whitaker served the Bridgeport Building and Loan Association as secretary for several years while rearing a family. Mr. and Mrs. Whitaker had three children. Joseph Jr. was killed in an accident while a sophomore at University of Illinois. Ms. Francis Whitaker became instructor of music at Washington, Illinois, High School for at least seven years, followed by several years in the Bridgeport Public School system. Dr. Lorin Dixon Whitaker became a surgeon in Peoria after four years’ experience with Mayo Clinic at Rochester. Mrs. Whitaker’s husband Joseph C. Whittaker predeceased her.
(Ed Note: We were honored to receive a scrapbook filled with all of her music recital programs from 1916 to 1957. If a family member of yours took music lessons with Mrs. Whitaker, we would like to hear about it. If you would like to see if a family member is listed as one of her students, stop by the History Center on Monday or Saturday 9-3.)