Who Were the First Women in Your Field?

November 20, 2008

As AAUW prepares for its biennial convention, Breaking through Barriers, in St. Louis, Missouri, June 26–28, I have been reading about some Missouri women who broke through their own barriers in their chosen professions. With a little research, I have found out about outstanding accomplishments achieved by women who broke the traditional mold by to become the first women to hold positions previously dominated by men.

One of these women was Mary Paxton Keeley, who made her mark in history in 1910 by becoming the first woman to earn a journalism degree. She graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia and then became the first female news reporter in Kansas City at The Kansas City Post. By 1928, she had earned her graduate degree in journalism from the university and became a professor. In 1976, Mary Paxton Keeley donated her correspondence and manuscripts from her articles, fiction, and poetry to the University of Missouri. The Keeley Papers are now part of the National Women and Media Collection. She died in 1986 at age 100.

Mary Paxton Keeley is one of the many heroic women who refused to be limited by the constraints of inequality that society had placed on her. There are many fascinating stories of strong women who have been challenged and who have broken through their own barriers in communities across the United States. Who are the women in your field who were the “first”? Who was a “first” woman in your state?

Jennifer Steenberg By:   |   November 20, 2008


  1. Kathleen says:

    One example of a first for women in Iowa was my friend, Phyllis Henry. She became the first policewoman on the Des Moines force in 1972. She later went back to school, finishing with a PhD in communications. President Clinton appointed her US Marshall for the Iowa District in 1992, another first for a woman.

  2. The third president of the San Antonio, Texas Branch was Miss Eula Weston Deaton who racked up several “firsts.”

    She was one of the 10 women in the first graduating class, 1889, at the Industrial Institute and College, now Mississippi University for Women.

    She earned the first masters degree awarded to a woman at Mississippi University. She was also the first Dean of Women at Ole Miss. A dorm there is named “Eula Deaton Hall.”

    She was a board member of the Southern Association of College Women when she moved to San Antonio, and was here to help start our branch in 1908.

    Miss Deaton later was Dean of Girls at a high school in Oak Park, Illinois. She died there in 1942.

  3. Nader says:

    I worked for Phyllis Henry back in 1991 prior to her appointment as US Marshall. She was in charge of a student reserve officer program at Iowa State Universiy in Ames at the Plice department of Public Safety. I was a 20 year old student back then. I can only say she was a remarkable person and one of few people that I still remember often. I hope she is doing well.

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