Media History Exchange, 2018 Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

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“Born in Labor and Nurtured in Fortitude”: A History of Mississippi Press Women, 1947-1997
Pete Smith

Last modified: 2018-01-17


In 1947, Mary Cain, editor of the Summit (MS) Sun, and Hazel Brannon Smith, editor of the Durant (MS) News and the Lexington (MS) Advertiser, co-founded Mississippi Press Women (MPW) to “raise the status of women in the [journalism] field and meet their needs with limited resources” (Burt 308). Modeled after and meant to serve as an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women, of which Cain was a member-at-large, the MPW also included the wives of many members of the all-male Mississippi Press Association (302-03). For the next four decades, the MPW became an organization that fostered professional development among women in or around the profession, with membership peaking in 1980 before dropping off in the mid-1990s (307).

In a 2001 issue of Journalism Studies, historian Maurine Beasley called for a broader definition of journalism, one that would bring to light the experiences of women journalists by including, among other biographical factors, the histories of the professional organizations to which they belonged (Beasley 208). With few exceptions, though, including Elizabeth Burt’s edited volume, Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, there has been little attention paid to the historical value of professional organizations for women journalists. This research-in-progress will heed Beasley’s call for redirection by examining the history of the MPW during its first half century, including detailed profiles of some of its most accomplished members, an analysis of the professional resources the MPW offered to its membership, and the political and social issues the organization addressed. The following questions will guide the research:

  • What factors precipitated the formation of the MPW, and what specific role(s) did Cain and Smith play in its founding?
  • Who made up the MPW’s membership, and why did its leaders decide to admit the wives of Mississippi Press Association members?
  • What forms of professional development did the MPW offer, and how successful were these efforts?
  • Given the political and social climate of the post-war era, how did the MPW address issues of state and national importance, including the civil rights movement and the attempted passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (and other issues related to second wave feminism)?
  • What challenges did the MPW face in its first 50 years, and how did the organization address them?
  • What professional and academic lessons can be taken from the history of the MPW? In particular, what does the MPW teach us about the role of women’s professional organizations in their professional development and success?

To answer these questions, the project will rely heavily on the primary records of the MPW and those of Hazel Brannon Smith, both held in the Special Collections Department, Mississippi State University Libraries. The research-in-progress also may include interviews or oral histories conducted with many of the surviving members of the organization. Given the challenges that women journalists and communication professionals continue to face—obstacles related to sexism, sexual harassment, and lack of professional networks and resources—this study will be of interest to scholars of women’s history, southern politics and history, and feminist/gender studies.



Beasley, Maurine. “Recent Directions for the Study of Women’s History in American Journalism.” Journalism Studies 2.2 (2001): 207-220.

Burt, Elizabeth V. Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Print.

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