Martha Swain Has Passed Away

Martha Swain Has Passed Away

Martha Swain, an alumna of the history department at Mississippi State and a charter member of the Phi Alpha Theta, the history honorary here, passed away last night, May 16. A good and great friend to the department, Swain was best known for being a partisan and partner of the Mississippi Women's Workshop. The organization served many historians and the course of history.


This from her Emerita page on our website.

Martha Swain is a graduate of Starkville High and Mississippi State College. She holds the M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Vanderbilt University. She was on the faculty of Texas Woman's University for 21 years and after returning to Starkville in 1995 taught at Mississippi State for a period of time. During her years as a high school teacher in Florida, she was on the staff of History Institutes at Stetson University for six summers and at Rutgers University for one summer.

She is the author of two books on the New Deal, Pat Harrison: The New Deal; Years (1978) and Ellen Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women (1995) and co-author of Lucy Somerville Howorth: New Deal Lawyer, Politician and Feminist from the South (2003). She is a co-editor of two volumes of essays, Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives (2003, 2009) and has written a number of book chapters and journal articles on New Deal subjects and southern women's history. She is a past president of the Southern Association for Women Historians. She is the recipient of a distinguished senior faculty award at Texas Woman’s University, the 1994 Eudora Welty book prize at Mississippi University for Women, the 2002 Dunbar Rowland Award from the Mississippi Historical Society for lifetime contributions to Mississippi History, and the 2004 Mississippi Humanities Council's Chair's Award for contributions to public humanities programs. She was president of the Mississippi Historical Society in 2005-06 and is a long-time member of the review board of the Journal of Mississippi History, and a former member of the board of review of the Journal of Southern History.


I now copy from the letter I wrote in support of her nomination as A&S College Alumni of the Year. She received that award in 2010. She enjoyed it fully. While many left after dinner and the reception--which included the MSU marching band playing in the Student Union--she and her twin sister Margo went to each and every after party. She did not get home until well after midnight.

2 October 2009

Dear Alumni Association:

I wish to nominate Dr. Martha Swain as alumnus of the year for the College of Arts & Sciences.

Swain has had a distinguished life. She taught school for many years and served in a number of administrative posts. She has had an equally distinguished record of community service. In every place she has lived, her efforts have enhanced the quality of life for all residents. Her most recent efforts to give back to the community include several scholarships at MSU. In typical Swain fashion, Martha did not name her scholarship in history after herself. Instead, she dedicated the money in the name of two  of her former MSU professors  with whom she credits her start in the profession. Who is to be the recipient of this scholarship is equally revealing. At Martha’s request, the scholarship is given out to someone that she envisions to be in the same straits as she was over a half century ago. She asks that the scholarship be given to students of limited means hoping to engage in graduate education in history. In short, she seeks to assist through money what her MSU history professors did for her through their teaching.

But it is Martha’s contributions to the historical discipline that mark her as truly meritorious. Quite simply, she was a pioneer. She was among the first scholars to delve into the area of women’s history, especially in the south. She came of historical age when scholarship in history revolved around generals, presidents, wars and the like. She saw history as something more, as the history of everyone. She took the lead in recognizing that women in their various activities made repeated fruitful contributions to American life. And in following Booker T. Washington’s maxim that people should cast their buckets where they stand, Swain chose to focus on southern women.

This was a propitious choice both for Swain and the profession. Not surprisingly, the history of women in the more traditional south lagged behind the history of women in other regions. Or so it would have, had it not been for Swain. From the early 1970s on, at about the same time as America was undergoing a crusade for equal rights for women, Swain was documenting the history of women in the south. This she did in two major ways. First, she investigated the daily activities of ‘normal’ southern women. It is from Martha and others that we now know about the importance of such things as egg money for rural women and the rural economy and how the New Deal reorganized southern womanhood. But Swain also decided to focus on exceptional women, women who like her had made significant contributions to knowledge, politics, or society. She has published extensively in these two distinct areas.

Swain has been recognized for her professional efforts. She was awarded an endowed professorship at the Texas  Woman’s University where she spent most of her academic career. She received some twenty grants or awards to assist her research or to acknowledge its pathbreaking character. She has held office in almost all historical organizations that touch on her area of expertise. She has served on the board of editors of several prominent historical journals. Here in Mississippi, where she grew up and where she retired some 15 years ago, she has been especially productive. In her dotage and even as her eyesight failed her, Martha has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Mississippi History, chaired the Mississippi Historical Society’s prize committee, worked on forming the program for the society’s annual meeting, and in 2005 was elected the society’s president. Again since her retirement, Martha has undertaken and published 2 full volumes on the history of women important to the state of Mississippi and has contributed at least 8 articles or book chapters on Mississippi topics. She remains a regular feature at cultural and historical events in the state and never misses the opportunity to speak with faculty, graduate students and undergraduate history majors whenever possible. Indeed, an especially charming feature is to hold a history department function and watch Martha come alive talking to a younger scholar.

I nominate Martha Swain to be MSU Alumnus of the Year with great enthusiasm.

Yours sincerely,

Alan I Marcus

Professor and Head