Marjorie Paxson

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Marjorie Paxson
Marjorie Paxson.jpg
Marjorie Paxson c.1950s
Born(1923-08-23)August 23, 1923
Houston, Texas
DiedJune 17, 2017(2017-06-17) (aged 93)[1]
OccupationPublisher, editor, journalist
Years active1944–1986

Marjorie Paxson (August 23, 1923 — June 17, 2017) was an American newspaper journalist, editor and publisher. She led the transformation of journalism sorority Theta Sigma Phi into the professional organization Association for Women in Communications and helped create the National Women and Media Collection.

Early life[edit]

Marjorie Bowers Paxson[1] was born August 23, 1923 in Houston, Texas, to Roland B. and Marie Margaret (Bowers) Paxson.[2] She wasn't interested in nursing or teaching, then the most common professions open to women, and became interested in journalism while taking a class in high school.[2] She worked for the Columbia Missourian while in college and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1944.[2]


Paxson worked for United Press International (1944—1946), the Associated Press (1946—1948), the Houston Post (1948—1952), the Houston Chronicle (1952—1956), the Miami Herald (1956—1968), the St. Petersburg Times (1968—1970), the Philadelphia Bulletin (1970—1976), the Idaho Statesman (1976—1978), the Public Opinion (1978-1980), and the Muskogee Phoenix (1980—1986).[3]:43-44

Wire services[edit]

Like many US women of the time, during World War II Paxson was able to be considered for jobs previously limited to men, and starting in 1944 she covered hard news for the United Press in Omaha, Nebraska.[2][4]:5:33:205 After the war, having signed a waiver agreeing to quit when the war was over,[4]:205 she moved for a time to Lincoln, Nebraska, working for the Associated Press, then started working in women's pages, which before and after the war were the only journalism positions open to most women.


Paxson started at the Houston Post in 1948 as the society editor. She attempted to cover feature stories but was told by her editor that he would never allow a news story to be covered in the women's section.[2]

In 1952 she became women's editor at the Houston Chronicle but while she supervised a staff of seven, she was not given hiring and firing authority.[2] She published the first photos of black brides in a major Houston newspaper.[5]

In 1956 she was hired by Miami Herald women's page editor Dorothy Jurney as a copy editor and was mentored by Jurney and assisant women's editor Marie Anderson.[2] In 1959 Jurney moved to the Detroit Free Press, Anderson became 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] and the women's section of the Herald won so many Penney-Missouri Awards that the paper was asked to retire from the competition.[5]:34

In 1963 Paxson was elected president of Theta Sigma Phi and during her tenure "transformed the organization from a sorority into a professional organization."[2] The organization had been founded in 1908 as a sorority for journalism students and was at the time the de facto professional organization for women journalists because women were not accepted into the Society of Professional Journalists.[4]:36 When she was first elected, the organization was still primarily a social group. 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.[4]:37 She led the organization to establish a national headquarters in Austin, Texas.[2] She lobbied to change the name from the Greek symbols to Women in Communications, which she considered a more professional title and which ultimately was done after her tenure ended.[4]:37 In 2003 she was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame.[4]:37 The organization's current name is the Association for Women in Communications.

Paxson advocated for working women, in 1966 advising other women's page editors to "stop downgrading women executives."[4]:9

In the 1960s, newsrooms reflected changes wrought by the women's movement, and women made progress in obtaining jobs formerly open only to men.[5]: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."[4]:15

In 1968 she became women's editor of the St. Petersburg Times.[2] In 1970 the paper eliminated their women's section and Paxson was demoted to assistant features editor.[2] Shortly thereafter she won a Penney-Missouri Award; when management discovered she was looking for a new job, they fired her.[2]

In 1970 she became women's page editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin which shortly thereafter eliminated its women's section, and Paxson was demoted to associate editor of the paper's Sunday magazine.[2] In a memo to the paper's publisher she criticized 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.” She was eventually made assistant metropolitan editor.[2]

In 1975 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 United Nations World Conference for International Women's Year, in Mexico City.[4]:170 Her work earned her a Women in Communications Headliner Award.[2] Paxson later called it the most important thing she'd ever done.[2]

In 1976 Paxson moved to Gannett's Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, as assistant managing editor.[4]:166


In 1978 she moved to Gannett's Public Opinion in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania as publisher.[2]

In 1980 Paxson became publisher of Gannett's Muskogee Phoenix in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Upon being informed by the former publisher that he had a policy against women wearing pants, she arrived for her first day of work the next morning wearing a pantsuit, paraded through the press room, the composing room, and the news room before heading to her office, 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.[4]:92 She held this position until her retirement in 1986.[2][3]:44

In 1989 she was selected to participate in the Washington Press Foundation's Women in Journalism Oral History Project,[6] one of four women's page journalists included. The others were Anderson, Jurney, and Vivian Castleberry.

National Women and Media Collection[edit]

In 1986 Paxson donated her papers and $50,000 to the University of Missouri to create the National Women and Media Collection.[5] The collection is now held by the State Historical Society of Missouri.[2]

Women's movement[edit]

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, having 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.[3]:45 Women's movement leaders, however, objected to the very idea of a so-called "women's section" as segregation by sex and wanted news of interest to women covered in the news sections[2] and, according to Paxson, saw women's page editors as traitors.[3]:44

As the women's movement developed mainstream support, women's pages began to be viewed as anachronistic.[3]: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.[3]:48

Soon after the elimination of the women's section at the St. Petersburg Times and her demotion and replacement by a male editor,[3]:44 Paxson learned she had won a Penney-Missouri Award.[4]:43 The same thing happened to her a second time, when the Philadelphia Bulletin eliminated its women's page for a features section and hired a male editor for the new section. Paxson was demoted to associate editor of the paper's Sunday magazine.[3]: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.[4]:11


In 1969 she won a Penney-Missouri Award for General Excellence.[5]

In 1975 she won a Women in Communications Headliner Award for her work on Xilonen.[2]

In 2001 she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Women in Communications.[5]:1

In 2003 she was inducted into the Association for Women in Communications' Hall of Fame.[4]:37

Personal life[edit]

Paxson was never married and had no children.[4]:9 She died June 17, 2017.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Marjorie Bowers Paxon". Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Harper, Kimberly. "Marjorie Paxson". State Historical Society of Missouri. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Jan Whitt (2008). Women in American Journalism: A New History. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07556-8.
  4. ^ 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. Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 9783319962139. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Voss, Kimberly Wilmot; Speere, Lance (2007–2008). "Marjorie Paxson: From Women's Editor to Publisher" (PDF). Media History Monographs. 10 (1). Retrieved 17 March 2019.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  6. ^ "Women in Journalism/Interviewees". National Press Club Foundation. Retrieved 17 March 2019.