Saturday, May 14, 2011
Penney-Missouri Awards Director Paul Myhre
I had the most pleasant surprise yesterday morning. I received an email with the subject line “Paul Myhre.” It was from his son.
I have been a Paul Myhre fan for at least a decade. He has been the center of my research as the one who brought the women I studied together. His letters back and forth to the women’s page editors – especially those in Florida – chronicled the struggles and the friendships that became the basis of my work. It also led me to love Florida while living in St. Louis. (Many of the Award winners were from Florida newspapers.)
Back in 2000, I was a doctoral student at the University of Maryland. My dissertation advisor Dr Maurine Beasley suggested that I study women’s pages – one of the only places for women in journalism for decades. She guided me to the archives at the National Women and Media Collection (NWMC) at the University of Missouri, which housed the papers of several women’s pages editors and the awards for the top women’s pages in the 1960s. The thought at that time was the women‘s pages were little more than fluff – simply reinforcing traditional messages that kept women in the home.
Yet, over the past decade I discovered and proved that these sections – and the women’s page editors – were much more complex than that. Yes, there were stories about food and fashion. Many of these women liked to cook and wear a colorful hat. Yet, they were also well aware of pay inequity and sexual harassment because they experienced that, too. Their sections reflected the mix of interests, or what I call quilted news. My dissertation told the story of three of these women. What I then realized was that there were many other women whose stories had not been told. I set out to change that.
So, back to Paul. He was the director of the Penney-Missouri Awards at the University of Missouri throughout the 1960s. Thanks to Nancy Beth Jackson, his papers were saved and given to the (NWMC) that was housed in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection in the Ellis Library. Paul’s papers were unprocessed – meaning that it was box after box of letters without any organization. During the five years that I was a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (suburban St. Louis), my husband and I made many trips to go through those papers. (And this is significant in that my husband is from Kansas and does not willingly go to the University of Missouri. Luckily, he understood the need to tell the stories found in those papers.)
I made so many trips to go through those papers that eventually the papers were processed – the archivists used my blog as a reference. Four years ago, the National Women and Media Collection – started by women’s page editor Marjorie Paxson – celebrated its 20 Anniversary and I was asked to speak at the celebration. This led to me interviewing for a job at Mizzou which then led me to interviewing for my current job at the University of Central Florida.
Paul, and his wife Mary, were central to the fight to improve the status of women in newspapers. Decades later, his papers allow me to tell their stories. I now must get to work telling Paul’s story.