Sometimes a simple act can have a far-reaching impact. Mildred Nichols Hamilton knew this well. The 1943 University of Oklahoma journalism alumna challenged the convention of her time when she broke the all-male barrier in the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium press box by taking a seat reserved for The Oklahoma Daily’s editor, a position she held in the fall of 1943. A simple act, perhaps, but its impact would ripple across generations of women studying journalism at OU.
Times may be different, but Hamilton, who passed away in 2010, continues to have an impact on women in journalism, directing almost $1 million of her estate to OU to establish a scholarship endowment for women students in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The scholarship endowment is one of the largest in the Gaylord College.
The first five Hamilton Scholars will be announced during the Gaylord College Scholarship and Awards Ceremony on April 21. Each student will receive $2,000 per year for four years, providing they continue to meet academic criteria.
“At a time when the journalism world is under stress, it is reassuring when a lifelong veteran in the field makes such a substantial investment in the next generation and their pathway to success,” said Gaylord College Dean Joe Foote. “It is especially fitting that a pioneer in breaking gender barriers in journalism will be making such a significant difference in the lives of female journalists for years to come. The Hamilton Scholars will stand beside the McMahon Scholars and the Gaylord Scholars as our preeminent four-year scholarships for freshmen.”
Mary Nell York, a fellow journalist and Hamilton’s closest friend, said Hamilton was concerned about women having opportunities to go to college, knowing that finances could be a barrier to earning a degree.
“She also recognized that journalism, for a woman, was almost a forbidden field when she was in school, and she knew that women in the field could have a real impact,” York said. “She wanted to make it possible for many women to attend a good university and to find a role that would help them to impact others. She was intensely loyal to OU.”
Hamilton’s lengthy professional career included reporting for the Baton Rouge, La., Morning Advocate and News; the Oklahoma City bureau of The Associated Press; the Vallejo Times-Herald; and the San Francisco Examiner, where she spent 30 years as a top feature writer. She also covered national and international conferences on women’s rights. In 1955, she received the Reid Foundation Fellowship, established by the Ogden Reid family of the New York Herald Tribune, and spent a year in Europe. York said Hamilton’s stint abroad “was an eye-opening experience” and, after that, “Mildred never stopped traveling or writing about what she saw and observed.” A self-described “journalism junkie,” she was married three times – all fellow journalists: the late John H. Schroeder, the late Francis "Spud" Hamilton, and former San Francisco News-Call-Bulletin City Editor Harry Press, who arranged to have Oklahoma! as the recessional in their wedding ceremony. After retiring from journalism, Hamilton earned her master’s degree in history from San Francisco State University in 1996 and also conducted research for the Hearst Foundation. She later contributed a chapter on Phoebe Apperson Hearst to the book California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression.
“Mildred covered difficult subjects for women at various conferences and was always fair, balanced and presented points just the way they were,” York said. “As one of her editors at the Examiner in San Francisco said, ‘You could send Mildred out on any kind of story and know it would be put on your desk in an interesting, balanced manner with no need of editing. She is a winner.' If Mildred had a mantra it was ‘fairness.' In that way, she was a true role model for women.”