Kay Mills

This time, I know that not only are there a lot of us out in the forest yelling at the trees about the benefits that would accrue to American newspapers if they had more women and blacks and Latinos and Asians sharing in news judgments. Not only are we out there, but more of us are willing to carry power saws now. Think about it.

— Kay Mills

Kay Mills

Although we did not get a chance to interview Kay Mills for the JAWS Oral History Project, we would be remiss not to include this influential woman in a project focused on the organization that she loved.

Mills (1941-2011) served on the first JAWS board of directors and played a critical role in the Missouri School of Journalism’s decision to pursue this oral history project.

Born in Washington, D.C., Kay Mills noted there were two main influences that sparked her interest in journalism during her childhood.

“First, she had an uncle who was a rewrite man on the Roanoke Times. He didn’t get up until about 11 a.m. and went to work about 2 and, to an 8-year-old who spent her summers with his family, that seemed wonderfully leisurely,” Mills wrote in a third-person autobiography for JAWS in the late 1980s. “Second, she used to watch May Craig of the Portland Press-Herald on ‘Meet the Press’ … there she was ‒ a woman ‒ answering questions with the big boys.”

Mills worked on her junior high, high school and college newspapers. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State and earned a master’s degree in African history from Northwestern in 1965. During her undergraduate years, she worked for two summers at United Press International (UPI) in Washington, D.C., which helped her land full-time work at the organization’s Chicago bureau in 1964.

In 1967, she left UPI to work for the Baltimore Evening Sun. She briefly left newspapers in 1970 to 1971 to work as assistant press secretary for Sen. Ed Muskie, D- Maine. She then spent several years working in the Washington, D.C., bureau for Newhouse before joining the Los Angeles Times in 1978 as an editorial writer. Her obituary in the Times noted that she was one of the first women on the newspaper’s editorial board and remained the only woman there for many years.

Mills left the Times in 1991 to write books and freelance. She is the author of five books, including “A Place in the News: From the Women’s Pages to the Front Page.” During her career, Mills also served as a Knight journalism fellow at Stanford and taught journalism at the University of Southern California and Princeton University. She died of a heart attack in January 2011.

A 2011 JAWS tribute to Mills noted that she “mentored and nurtured countless young women on journalism and writing and has been a vital part in the growth and leadership of JAWS.”

In a recent interview, JAWS member Glenda Holste called Mills “an extremely important JAWS founder and helper of other women.”

JAWS member Peggy Simpson recalled how she, Mills and Eileen Shanahan were among the key journalists to cover the beginning of the women’s political movement.

“And Kay Mills, who was white, was very influential and involved in covering civil rights issues and broadcast ownership,” Simpson said.

JAWS member Melissa Ludtke recalled Mills’ love of JAWS.

“Kay and I were very close. And Kay would always say to me, ‘You’ve got to come to JAWS. You’ve got to come to JAWS,’ ” Ludtke said.

In a 1986 JAWS newsletter, Mills explained how the organization drew her in from the beginning.

“First and foremost, it was invaluable to me to see the various states in other women’s thinking ‒ some far ahead of me in analyzing problems unique to women,” she said. “I was fascinated to see what subjects got which people passionately interested, whether it was child care or the treatment of women in the transition between women’s pages and Style sections.”

She reflected on her love of JAWS again in a 1988 newsletter.

“For a female journalist, it means support in the struggle. And just for me, it means instant friends,” Mills said.

For additional information on the life of Kay Mills, visit here and here.