When it comes to her life’s work, longtime journalist Jean Gaddy Wilson says it best, “My activity is one where I keep standing up for women. By virtue of the fact that I do that, I stand up for the whole society.” As the publisher of the landmark study, “Taking Stock: Women in the Media in the 21st Century” and the founder of news think tank, New Directions for News at the Missouri School of Journalism, among other accomplishments, Jean has been an important advocate of women journalists.
Raised in rural Missouri, Jean grew up in an environment where women had very few career options. As a female journalist, she was given fashion assignments and was once told by a friend that she was wasting the professor’s time since she would ultimately go home and have babies. Despite facing such adversity, Jean obtained a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 1966 from the Missouri School of Journalism where she would eventually return to teach and obtain the University of Missouri’s lifetime achievement award. The next year, she became the “number two PR girl” for Christian College, now Columbia College. By age 26, she had a position on the administration and helped turn the failing institution around. This led to a private consulting job where Jean worked with around 40 institutions. Then, in the 1980s, Jean taught Women in Media to students at the Missouri School of Journalism as well as other courses. In 1987, she helped found the National Women in Media Collection, and in 1990 she helped create the International Women’s Media Federation. Jean also became a professor at the University of Missouri and went on win a Faculty-Alumni Award in 2008.
In addition to these achievements, Jean was one of the original 13 members of JAWS, helping to create it when she asked the question “What is the status of women in media?” in 1984. Over the years, she continued to attend camps and launched a newsletter. The organization became a place where “women who were making a way when there was no way, when the system was against them,” could go for support. As JAWS continues to grow, Jean said one thing that will never change is its importance.
“There is never a time when media for and about women should be abandoned,” she said.
This oral history interview with Jean, which lasted almost five hours, took place on a beautiful day on November 7, 2013, at the Missouri School of Journalism.
( This interview was conducted by Yong Volz )