Mississippi University for Women, originally the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls, was the first taxpayer supported college for women in the United States.
Mississippi had pockets of strong local civil rights activity before the Freedom Riders entered the state, but their presence in 1961 propelled the local movement to new heights.
Prior to the involvement of national initiatives in the 1960s, such as the Freedom Rides, local people worked to bring an end to discrimination in their communities. These efforts were led out of public view in private homes, churches, and small businesses. For this reason, the early local leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are often overlooked in history.
Without question, Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey was one of the most intellectually gifted women of Mississippi. With considerable aplomb, she dealt as best she could with the emotional tensions arising from her lifelong compulsion to balance the conventional female role of the plantation South with a more rigorous life of the mind. Her heart and soul refused to submit to all the repressive demands that held women in a virtual prison, called hearth and home. But finding a proper balance between these polarities in the 19th century was scarcely easy.
Fannye A. Cook, the force behind the creation of the Mississippi agency known as the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and its educational and research arm, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, was the first person to collect and catalog Mississippi wildlife, and to lead the effort to protect and restore the state’s natural environment.
Lucy Somerville Howorth once described herself as a lawyer, politician, and feminist. She believed that girls and women should have the same access to college, a career, and professional promotions as society offered to boys and men. It really was not a radical idea in her day, but many women were afraid to be called a “feminist.” Not Lucy, who once said, “I glory in being a feminist.”
“I think that life has to be lived positively and affirmatively,” Lucy Somerville Howorth once declared to an interviewer. Students will find in this lesson numerous examples across diverse areas where Mrs. Howorth lived a life true to her declaration. As an activist, she was involved in issues that ranged from social and economic fairness and justice for women and Black people, to political campaigning and holding office, to conservation and stewardship.
Any reference to art in Mississippi and the South since the early part of the 20th century would not be complete without Marie Hull. Her art and life as a painter and teacher have influenced hundreds of young artists to make their way in art.
From the 1975 Marie Hull Exhibit brochure
Marie Atkinson made the discovery at the age of twenty, that she “wanted to paint more than anything else.”
Native Mississippi artist Marie Hull approached her art as she approached life — as a series of learning adventures. Her adventures around the United States and Europe, as well as her interactions with people, served as an inspiration for her art. Her natural talent was not only shared through the creation of beautiful works of art, but through the sharing of her knowledge with her students. Throughout her lifetime, Marie Hull’s work was exhibited not only in her home state, but throughout the country and in some cities abroad.
Hazel Brannon Smith was a southern belle whose life was anything but typical compared to the women of her time. Upon graduation from college, she relocated from Alabama to Holmes County, Mississippi, where she became the owner of two local newspapers. While faced with great resistance and pressure from segregationists, she courageously reported the news during a turbulent time in the history of the state and nation.