March is Women’s History Month and we are recognizing Mississippi women here on the blog! Read on to find out more about some of Mississippi’s notable women and their records at MDAH.
Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was a major American writer who published novels (including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Optimist’s Daughter), short stories, a memoir, and photographs, and wrote all of her fiction in her family home at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She left her home and collection of books to the state of Mississippi and the home is now open to the public as the Eudora Welty House. The house was restored by MDAH to its mid-1980s appearance, the last period when Welty was still writing daily. Her papers are cataloged in the MDAH collection as the Welty (Eudora) Collection, Z/0301.000/S
Soprano Leontyne Price (1927-) was born in Laurel, Mississippi. As a young woman, she moved to New York City to study at Juilliard and there began a singing career that eventually won her eighteen Grammy awards. In 1955 Price was engaged to sing the lead for the National Broadcasting Company’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. There were strenuous objections, and some cancellations, from local affiliates; nonetheless, her performance was a critical success. By the mid 1960s, Price was considered one of the world’s great divas. Price retired from the opera stage at the Met in 1985 with her signature role, Aida. The live telecast was viewed by millions. There are many photographs, books, and subject files about Price in the MDAH collection.
Burnita Shelton Matthews (1894-1988) was the first woman to be appointed and confirmed as a federal trial judge in the United States. Born in Copiah County, she received her law degree from the National University Law School in Washington, D. C., and was admitted to the bar in 1920. Unable to find a private firm or government agency that would hire a woman, Matthews opened her own practice. She became an ardent suffragist and feminist. In 1949 President Harry Truman appointed Matthews to the United States District Court in Washington, D. C., where she served until taking senior status in 1968. During this time Matthews served by designation on the United States Court of Appeals as well as on the U.S. District Court. She retired from the bench in September 1983 and died in 1988.
During her distinguished career Matthews presided over several noteworthy legal actions including the bribery trial of Jimmy Hoffa and the passport denial of singer and communist activist Paul Robeson. Her papers are cataloged in the MDAH collection as the “Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers,” Z/1965.000/S.
Charlotte Capers (1913-1996) was the first female head of a state agency in Mississippi. She began working at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 1938 under director Dr. William D. McCain (1907-1993). When Dr. McCain was called to active military service from 1943-45 and 1951-53, Capers was acting director of MDAH. After McCain stepped down to become president of Mississippi Southern College, Capers became director, serving from 1955-69. Her major projects included the restoration of the Old Capitol from 1959-61, the construction of a new archives building (completed in 1971 and named the Charlotte Capers Building in 1983), and the restoration of the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion from 1972-75. After resigning as department director Capers became Special Projects Assistant and continued working for MDAH, editing the Mississippi History Newsletter until 1987. MDAH has many of her publications, including The Capers Papers, in the collection. Her papers are cataloged as Capers (Charlotte) Papers, Z/0958.001 and Capers (Charlotte) Scrapbook, Z/0958.000.
For more on Women’s History Month, check out these pieces from the blog-o-sphere:
- The National Archives’ “Text Message” blog discusses the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II in this blog post.
- Test your knowledge of women’s history milestones with this quiz on the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library “Local History Announcements blog.
- The National Archives has a neat collection of documents relating to women’s history on their Scribd page.
- The Library of Congress is hosting a “Women’s History Month” website that features the collections of the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.