Marjorie Paxson

Marjorie Paxson (August 13, 1923 – June 17, 2017) was an American newspaper journalist, editor, and publisher. In the 1960s, while she and Marie Anderson ran the women's page of the Miami Herald, the section won so many Penney-Missouri awards that the paper was asked to retire from the competition. Paxson also won a Penney-Missouri award as women's page editor of the St. Petersburg Times. She was twice elected president of the journalism sorority Theta Sigma Phi and led its evolution into what became the Association for Women in Communications. She won an Association for Women in Journalism Lifetime Achievement award and was inducted into their hall of fame.

Marjorie Paxson
Woman seated behind a typewriter
Marjorie Paxson c.1950s
Born(1923-08-13)August 13, 1923
DiedJune 17, 2017(2017-06-17) (aged 93)
OccupationPublisher, editor, journalist
Years active1944–1986

Paxson was born in Texas and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She started her career during the Second World War, working in Nebraska covering hard news for the wire services, then working as an editor of women's pages in Houston, Miami, and Philadelphia, and in Boise, Idaho, as an assistant managing editor.

During her time editing women's sections Paxson experienced two demotions as newspapers changed their women's sections into features sections and replaced female editors with male editors. She expressed bitterness over her demotions and attributed them partially to the women's movement. She believed feminist activists unfairly denigrated women's pages and their editors, whom she believed had been supporters of the movement. Paxson finished her career as a newspaper publisher in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

Paxson advocated for working women and for women in journalism. She led the transformation of journalism sorority Theta Sigma Phi into the professional organization Association for Women in Communications and in 2003 was inducted into their hall of fame. She helped create the National Women and Media Collection. She was one of four women's page journalists selected to participate in the Washington Press Foundation's Women in Journalism Oral History Project.

Early lifeEdit

Marjorie Bowers Paxson[1] was born August 13, 1923, in Houston, Texas, to Roland B. and Marie Margaret (Bowers) Paxson, who had moved to Houston from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where both had grown up.[2][3]:2[4] She had one younger brother, John.[3]:13[4][5] Her father was a petroleum geologist; he and his wife moved to Texas for his career.[3]:2 Her mother had attended a secretarial school but discontinued working after she married.[3]:2 According to Paxson, as children she and her brother visited the derrick floors on the oil fields her father worked, but when she got to high school age she was no longer allowed on the derrick floors because she was a woman.[4]

Paxson attended Lamar High School in Houston's Upper Kirby district.[3]:2 She was uninterested in nursing or teaching, then the most common professions open to women, and became interested in journalism while taking a class in high school and writing for her school's newspaper.[2][3]:2 Her journalism teacher had graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Paxson decided she wanted to go to the school he had gone to.

Paxson's parents aspired to a college education for both their children.[4] In accordance with her parents' wishes that she attend her first two years of college close to home, she applied to Rice University, which was only a mile from the family home.[4] Paxson had been concerned whether she would get into Rice, which at the time limited its freshman class to ten percent women.[3]:2 Rice at the time had an endowment that allowed Paxson to attend tuition-free; she recalled her family paying $200 per year for her to attend Rice.[4] While at Rice she worked on the student newspaper, The Thresher.[2]

In 1942 she transferred to the University of Missouri for her junior year; within a few weeks, most of her male classmates were drafted for World War II.[3]:2 During Paxson's time at the university, the dean of the school of journalism was Frank Luther Mott, whom she admired but thought was "sort of a stuffy character" until on New Year's Day during class he staged his own attempted murder, giving the class the assignment to write about the incident.[4] She worked for the Columbia Missourian, graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1944.[2]

After graduation Paxson considered joining the military but ultimately decided to look for a job in journalism.[3]:2 Paxson credited her work at the Missourian with helping her get her first job at United Press International (UPI) wire service.[3]:2

CareerEdit

Wire servicesEdit

Like many women of the time in the United States, during World War II Paxson was able to be considered for jobs previously limited to men,[6]:114 and starting in 1944 she covered hard news for the wire services, first for UPI in the two-person Lincoln, Nebraska, bureau for $25 a week, which represented equal pay because it was covered by the American Newspaper Guild contract.[2][7]:5,33,205[4][5] At the time, due to the war, one in five of UPI's employees were women.[3]:2 During the war Paxson and the Lincoln bureau manager, Marguerite Davis, reported all state news with the exception of football games, as at the time women were excluded from Nebraska Stadium's press box, and executions, which the state bureau chief, Gaylord Godwin, considered inappropriate for coverage by women.[3]:2[4] While covering the Nebraska Supreme Court, Paxson experienced sexual harassment by the court clerk.[3]:3 Paxson later recalled that, at the time, "you just had to put up with it, spend as little time as possible in his office, make a point of always keeping the desk between you. If he started to come around the desk, you picked up those opinions and left."[3]:3

Paxson worked for UPI for two years, until 1946.[3]:3[4] After the war, having signed a waiver agreeing to quit when the war was over,[7]:205 UPI told her she was losing her job.[3]:3 That same week she moved to the Associated Press (AP), in Omaha, Nebraska, to edit radio wire copy for $55 a week.[8]:43–44[3]:3[4] She worked for the AP for two years, then in 1948 moved back to Texas, where she started working in women's pages, which were the only journalism positions open to most women both before and after the war.[7]:2

EditorEdit

At age 25, Paxson started in 1948 as the society editor for the Houston Post, then considered the more progressive paper in the city, with a staff of five, all women, and a salary of $75 per week.[8]:43–44[3]:3–4[4] Houston's oil-boom economy meant plenty of high-profile social events, and Paxson said at the time she had 14 evening dresses, most of them sewn by her mother, and that on a typical Friday she worked all day, covered a party in the evening, returned to the office to write and file a piece on the event, and got home at 3 in the morning.[3]:4

She moved pictures of brides off the section's front page, where most newspaper society pages always ran them at the time, in favor of issue-oriented stories.[3]:4[6]:116 She considered this one of her major accomplishments at the paper; at one point she had to explain to the paper's de facto publisher, Oveta Culp Hobby, that she wouldn't run a wedding photo of the daughter of one of Hobby's friends.[3]:4 Paxson said that once she'd been given the explanation, Hobby backed Paxson up.[3]:4,6 She was promoted from society editor to women's page editor and attempted to cover news but was told by her editor that he would never allow a news story to be covered in the women's section.[2][3]:4

In 1952 she became women's editor at the Houston Chronicle for $100 a week,[8]:43–44[9] but while she supervised a staff of seven, she was not given hiring and firing authority.[2] While at the Chronicle she published the first photos of black brides in a major Houston newspaper and convinced her managing editor to take a chance on the then-little known Ann Landers.[3]:4[4] By the mid-1950s she began covering issues affecting working women and other serious news.[3]:5

Dorothy Jurney, the women's pages editor for the Miami Herald, then considered one of the top women's sections in the country, hired Paxson as a copy editor in 1956.[8]:43–44[3]:x She was mentored in her new position by Jurney and assistant women's editor Marie Anderson, worked alongside Roberta Applegate and Jeanne Voltz, and the department's managing editors included Al Neuharth and Lee Hills.[2][9][10] Jurney moved to the Detroit Free Press in 1959; Anderson took her place as women's pages editor, and Paxson was promoted to assistant women's editor. Over the next several years they campaigned to include stories on women's issues such as birth control and the women's movement.[2] During Anderson and Paxson's tenure, the women's section of the Herald won so many Penney-Missouri Awards that the organizers asked the paper to retire from the competition.[3]:34 Paxson worked at the Herald for 12 years; her ending salary was $9,000 per year.[3]:7[10]

Paxson moved to the St. Petersburg Times, at the time known for its progressive content, to become its women's editor in 1968 at a salary of $13,000 per year.[2][3]:7[10] Although she had a staff of seven, all women, she could not make hiring, firing, or budget decisions; this was common among women's pages editors at the time.[3]:7 In 1970, following the lead of other major newspapers which were changing their women's sections into features sections, the paper eliminated their women's section, and Paxson was demoted to assistant features editor.[2] Shortly thereafter she won a Penney-Missouri Award for her work on the paper's then-defunct women's section. This was an embarrassment to the paper's management, and when shortly thereafter they discovered she was looking for a new job, they fired her.[2] She was hired as women's page editor by the Philadelphia Bulletin that same year,[8]:43–44 with a staff of 15, but in 1973 the paper eliminated its women's section in favor of a features section, and Paxson was again demoted, this time to associate editor of the paper's Sunday magazine, where her assigned tasks were primarily reading page proofs.[2][3]:8[10] Paxson called the time she spent on the magazine "the worst fourteen months of my life."[10] She was made assistant metropolitan editor in 1974, with a staff of 18.[2][3]:9 She still had no personnel authority or budget control; once when faced with a decision whether to send a fashion editor to Paris, she said she could make a better decision if she knew the department's budget, and was told by one of her managers, "Aren't you glad you don't have to worry your pretty head about things like that?"[3]:9

While Paxson was working at the Philadelphia Bulletin, she took a five-week leave of absence to edit the Xilonen, the daily newspaper of the 1975 United Nations World Conference for International Women's Year in Mexico City, hiring a staff of six as reporters.[7]:170[11] Her work earned her a Women in Communications Headliner Award.[2] While editing Xylonen Paxson edited the work of influential writers such as Germain Greer.[3]:9 Paxson later called it the most important thing she had ever done.[2] When she returned to the Philadelphia Bulletin, the paper didn't run the four-part series she had written about the conference; Paxson viewed this as the writing on the wall and started a job search.[3]:10 She reached out to Neuharth, then the head of Gannett, where he had increased the company's focus on promoting women and minorities, and he brought her to Gannett's headquarters in Rochester for interviews.[3]:10 While waiting for an opening she became frustrated with the deteriorating situation at the Bulletin and in 1976 quit; her ending salary was $22,000.[3]:10[11] At the time, Jurney was working on the official report of the third Status of Women Commission, which was headed by Jill Ruckelshaus, and she brought Paxson in to help.[3]:11

Paxson moved to Gannett's Idaho Statesman, a 60,000-circulation paper in Boise, in 1976 to become assistant managing editor.[7]:166[3]:11 She reported to managing editor Gary Watson, with whom she helped prepare the news room budget, and earned the same salary as Gannett would have paid a man.[3]:11[11] While working at the Statesman she was awarded the Women in Communications Headliner Award for her work on Xilonen.[3]:11 She worked at the Statesman for 18 months before moving on to become publisher at Gannett's Public Opinion in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.[3]:11

PublisherEdit

Paxson moved to Gannett's Public Opinion in Pennsylvania in 1978 to become the paper's publisher.[2] She was the fourth female publisher of a Gannett daily paper.[3]:11 She had budget responsibility for five departments.[3]:11 She recalled that the first time she had to fire someone, "It was a totally new experience for me because I had never had the authority to fire anybody up to this point."[3]:11 She had a habit of bringing her miniature dachshund, Tiger, to the office with her, and when her mother expressed doubt, objecting that "What will they think?", Paxson told her, "Mom, I am 'they'."[3]:13[4] She worked at the Public Opinion for a little under three years.[3]:12

While at the Public Opinion, Paxson accepted a three-week position as associate editor for the daily newspaper of the 1980 United Nations Mid-Decade Conference for Women, which was held in Copenhagen. She worked with executive editor John Rowley, who she said "displayed little understanding of women's issues"; Paxson ultimately thought the conference newspaper was demeaning to women, and she wasn't proud of working on it.[3]:11–12

In 1980 she became publisher of Gannett's Muskogee Phoenix in Muskogee, Oklahoma.[8]:43–44 The outgoing publisher, Tams Bixby III, had sold the newspaper to Gannett after three generations of his family running it, and he had decided to retire.[3]:12[4] She recalled learning that some on the staff were unhappy that the newspaper's publisher was going to be "one of Gannett's token women."[3]:12 During her tenure she changed the paper's stance on the Equal Rights Amendment from opposed to supporting.[4] She held this position until her retirement in 1986 at the age of 63 after 42 years working in newspapers.[2][8]:44 Her ending salary with Gannett was over six figures, including stock options.[12]

In retirementEdit

After she retired Paxson wrote a weekly column for the Phoenix called "Nobody Asked Me But..." which focussed on local issues, daily life, and her travels.[3]:14[4] The travel columns were published in book form in 1990.[3]:14

Association for Women in CommunicationsEdit

Paxson was elected president of Theta Sigma Phi in 1963 while working at the Miami Herald.[3]:7 During her tenure she "transformed the organization from a sorority into a professional organization," according to the State Historical Society of Missouri, which maintains the National Women in Media collection.[2] The organization had been founded in 1908 as a sorority for journalism students and was at the time of Paxson's tenure the de facto professional organization for women journalists because women were not accepted into the Society of Professional Journalists.[7]:36 When she was first elected, the organization was still primarily a social group.[3]:7 Paxson campaigned for a more professional approach, a stance which was not popular with all members, many of whom disagreed with her emphasis on professional training.[7]:37 She led the organization to establish a national headquarters in Austin, Texas; previously the national organization's files had been stored in the national secretary's garage.[2][3]:7[10] She also lobbied to change the name from the Greek symbols to Women in Communications, which she considered a more professional title; the name change ultimately occurred after her second term ended.[7]:37 The organization's name eventually became the Association for Women in Communications.[13]

Views and advocacyEdit

Paxson advocated for working women; in 1966, she notably advised other women's page editors to "stop downgrading women executives."[7]:9 She and Edee Greene, women's editor of the Ft. Lauderdale News, advised other editors to stop writing things such as "although Edee Greene is a champion stock car driver, president of the Florida women's press club and women's editor of the Ft. Lauderdale News, she still finds time to be a wife and mother," pointing out that no journalist would feel the need to explain about a man that, while successful in various ways, he was still able to be a husband and father.[3]:6

Newsrooms began in the 1960s to reflect changes wrought by the women's movement, and women made progress in obtaining jobs formerly open only to men.[3]:1 Paxson commented on the remaining resistance to the increasing role of women in journalism, writing in 1967 that "most city editors are men, and there is an inborn prejudice against sending a woman on certain kinds of stories."[7]:15 While working as women's editor for the Philadelphia Bulletin, she wrote a memorandum to the publisher criticizing the paper's coverage of news of importance to women, writing, "It seems to me that unless women are wives, mothers, entertainers—and I include beauty queens in that category—or freaks, the Bulletin does not admit that they exist.”[2]

On her first day at the Muskogee Phoenix, she was informed by the former publisher that he had had a policy against women wearing pants. She arrived for her second day of work the next morning wearing a pantsuit and walked through the press room, the composing room, and the news room before heading to her office. She then called a meeting of department heads to announce an official change in the dress code. The next day, 29 of the 45 women working for the newspaper arrived to work in pantsuits.[7]:92[11] Also at the Phoenix, she discovered the paper had three consistent editorial stances: in favor of alcohol by the drink (which at the time was illegal in Muskogee), in support of horse racing, and against the Equal Rights Amendment.[3]:12 She had no issues with the first two but of the third told the staff, "That's going to change."[3]:12–13

Paxson was angered by what she saw as a betrayal of women's page editors by leaders of the women's movement. She saw women's page editors as supporters of the movement, as the women's sections had been the only section of most newspapers to provide coverage in the movement's early years; the New York Times placed the 1965 announcement of the formation of the National Organization for Women between an article about Saks Fifth Avenue and a recipe for turkey stuffing.[8]:45 Women's movement leaders condemned the very idea of a so-called "women's section" as segregation by sex; they wanted news of interest to women to be covered in the news sections[2] and, according to Paxson, saw women's page editors as traitors.[8]:44 In 1983 she wrote,[8]:44[14]

I still have not quite forgiven women's movement activists for turning against women's editors. In the early days of the movement in the 1960s, most substantive newspaper coverage of the movement was on the women's pages. I considered myself a part of the movement and so did women's editors I knew across the country."

As the women's movement developed mainstream support, women's pages began to be viewed as anachronistic.[8]:43 At a time when many women's pages were steadily increasing their coverage of hard news of interest to women, many newspapers decided to eliminate their women's pages in favor of features sections, and often hired men to manage those sections. The women's page editors were often demoted or fired.[8]:48 Paxson was twice demoted when her paper replaced its women's section, first at the St. Petersburg Times and later at the Philadelphia Bulletin; both times, a man was made editor of the new section.[8]:44 Paxson once described her own firing and demotion to a group of other professional women, one of whom commented, "Marj, you have to accept the fact that you're a casualty of the women's movement," an opinion with which Paxson said she agreed.[7]:11 She wrote in 1983 that when newspapers changed "women's sections to general interest feature sections, women's editors paid the price. We were not considered capable of directing this new kind of features section. That was man's work."[6][8]:44[14]

Awards and legacyEdit

Paxson won a 1969 Penney-Missouri Award for General Excellence at the St Petersburg Times,[3] an Association for Women in Communications' Headliner Award for her work on Xilonen in 1975,[2] and an Association for Women in Communications Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.[3]:1 She was inducted into the Association for Women in Communications' Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2020 she was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.[15]

She donated her papers and $50,000 to the University of Missouri to create the National Women and Media Collection in 1986, the year of her retirement.[3] The collection is held in the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection by the State Historical Society of Missouri.[2][3]:13

She was selected in 1989 to participate in the Washington Press Foundation's Women in Journalism Oral History Project,[16] one of four women's page journalists to be included.[7]:205 The others were Anderson, Jurney, and Vivian Castleberry.[7]:183,186,204

According to journalism researcher Jan Whitt, Paxson "changed the concept of women's pages in Houston and Miami."[8]:42

Personal lifeEdit

Paxson lived with her parents while working in Houston from 1948 through 1956, as her parents believed a single woman should not be living in an apartment.[3]:3 Paxson was never married and had no children.[7]:9 She died on June 17, 2017.[1][2]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Tyrrell, Caleb (July 7, 2017). "Services set for longtime journalist Marjorie Bowers Paxson". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on March 5, 2021. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Harper, Kimberly. "Marjorie Paxson (1923-2017)". State Historical Society of Missouri. Archived from the original on March 27, 2021. Retrieved March 7, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl Voss, Kimberly Wilmot; Speere, Lance (2007–2008). "Marjorie Paxson: from women's editor to publisher" (PDF). Media History Monographs. 10 (1). Archived (PDF) from the original on March 5, 2021. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Marjorie Paxson: session 6". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 15, 1991. Archived from the original on March 27, 2021. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Marjorie Paxson: session 1". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 14, 1991. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Mills, Kay. (1990). A place in the news : from the women's pages to the front page (Morningside ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231074174. OCLC 21591766.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Voss, Kimberly Wilmot (2018). Re-evaluating women's page journalism in the post world war II era: celebrating soft news. USA: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 9783319962139. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Whitt, Jan (2008). Women in American journalism: a new history. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07556-8.
  9. ^ a b "Marjorie Paxson: session 2". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 15, 1991. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Marjorie Paxson: session 3". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 16, 1991. Archived from the original on March 26, 2021. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d "Marjorie Paxson: session 4". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 17, 1991.
  12. ^ "Marjorie Paxson: session 5". Washington Press Club Foundation. January 18, 1991. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  13. ^ Burt, Elizabeth V. (2000). Women's Press Organizations, 1881-1999. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 11–20. ISBN 9780313306617. Archived from the original on March 26, 2021.
  14. ^ a b Clabes, Judith G. (1983). New guardians of the press: selected profiles of America's women newspaper editors. Indianapolis, Indiana: R.J. Berg/Destinations Press, Limited. pp. 121–129. ISBN 9780897301060. Archived from the original on March 5, 2021. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  15. ^ "Marjorie Paxson". Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on January 16, 2021. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  16. ^ "Women in journalism/interviewees". National Press Club Foundation. Archived from the original on May 14, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2019.