A centennial celebration
Family creates a scholarship to honor matriarch who graduated from KU in 1918 with a journalism degree
Fall 2018 Edition
One hundred years after Jessie-Lea Messick Williams graduated from KU with a journalism degree, members of her family traveled to Mount Oread to remember their matriarch with a centennial event and to present a scholarship in her name.
As the 100th anniversary approached, Williams’ granddaughter Sally Gaskill and several family members pondered ways to honor their grandmother. Gaskill contacted the J-School with the idea for the Jessie-Lea Messick Williams Centennial Celebration Scholarship and event. About 20 family members traveled to KU from Indiana, California, Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., for the event on March 27 at the Oread Hotel in Lawrence.
In her remarks at the event, Gaskill noted that her grandmother graduated from college during a time when women did not even have the right to vote.
“The world was a different place 100 years ago,” Gaskill said. “It’s hard to image the role of women then.”
Despite the limited opportunities women had, Williams used her education to benefit many people’s lives, from hospitalized veterans to young women hoping to go to college and to write, and of course to her family.
At KU, Williams was a member of Theta Sigma Phi, the honorary journalism sorority and chaired the organization’s first national convention. In 1961, she reprised her 1918 role and chaired the Theta Sigma Phi national convention at KU. During World War I, Williams served as a Red Cross volunteer. She also served as president and later chairman of the board of the Farmers State Bank of Bogue, Kansas.
In the early 1950s, the national Theta Sigma Phi organization adopted the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project, in which members volunteered to teach veterans in local hospitals how to write about their experiences. Williams played a vital role in the production and distribution of Veterans Voices, the national magazine that published the hospitalized veterans’ writings.
The keynote speaker at the event, Colleen McCain Nelson (j’97), McClatchy Opinion editor and editorial page editor at the Kansas City Star, said she has always “looked up to the women who put all kinds of cracks in the glass ceilings of newsrooms. Jessie-Lea belongs on a long list of women journalists who forged a path for those of us who followed in their footsteps.”