The current issue features research by Gwyneth Mellinger on the debate in the 1950s and 1960s among members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors regarding the practice of allowing features syndicates to fete members with lavish parties. Pete Smith examines the press coverage of Evelyn Gandy, perhaps the most recognized political figure in Mississippi for three decades. Candi Carter Olson writes about the reporting of Ruth Cowan, one of the first women to receive official US Army credentials to cover World War II. Samantha Peko and Michael Sweeney explore the reporting of Nell Nelson, who wrote firsthand experiences of so-called “City Slave Girls” in Chicago and New York.
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“A Lady of Many Firsts”: Press Coverage of the Political Career of Mississippi’s Evelyn Gandy, 1948-83
Vol. 34, No. 4, 2017
By Pete Smith, Mississippi State University
For much of the latter half of the 20th century, Mississippi politician Evelyn Gandy was perhaps the most recognized name in the state. In 1948, she was elected to a term in the Mississippi House of Representatives. After a decade of private law practice, she served as a state assistant attorney general in 1959, before serving the first of two terms as state treasurer (1960–64, 1968–72). She also served the state as commissioner of public welfare (1964–67) and commissioner of insurance (1972–76). Her political career hit its peak when she was elected lieutenant governor (1976–80), an office she held before making two unsuccessful bids for the state’s highest office in 1979 and 1983. “If she weren’t a woman she would have been elected Governor,” longtime journalist W. F. “Bill” Minor stated in an interview with the Hattiesburg (MS) American at the time of Gandy’s death in 2007 (to supranuclear palsy). “She was a victim of the syndrome in Mississippi that women would not be elevated to high political office. Apparently, lieutenant governor is the ceiling.”
This study analyzed press coverage of Gandy’s career (from 1948, when she first won election to the Mississippi House of Representatives, to 1983, the year her second bid for governor ended), with emphasis placed on articles in which Gandy and/or her political campaigns were the subject of the story (as indicated by the headline or the amount of spaced dedicated to Gandy). The textual analysis included both news and feature articles (and headlines), photographs (and cutlines), and editorials and cartoons from small town and metro Mississippi newspapers, newspapers with a regional reach (e.g., Memphis Commercial Appeal, New Orleans Times-Picayune), and the AP and UPI wire services. Both language and image were studied, with attention paid to descriptions or portrayals of Gandy’s image (e.g., her physical appearance), or editorial assessments of her campaigns and effectiveness as a state politician.
The research uncovered three consistent gender frames dominating the press coverage: (1) a “first” frame, which presents women’s political contributions as an anomaly or novelty; (2) frames emphasizing stereotypical, feminine characteristics, whether that be Gandy’s physical appearance (e.g., her height, weight, dress, or her facial features), her manner of speaking (e.g., being “soft-spoken”), or the titles assigned to her (e.g., “lady”); and, (3) an “iron magnolia” frame, an attempt by the news media to acknowledge Gandy’s growing assertiveness as a political leader, and, at the same time, continue to overemphasize specific stereotypical, feminine characteristics. (Read more)