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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Jean Chance
Interviewee: Jo Anne Smith
March 30, 1992
C: Today is March 30, 1992. I am Jean Chance, and for the [College of] Journalism
[and Communications] Oral History Project I am interviewing Jo Anne Smith, a
recently retired member of the journalism faculty.
We are talking in this class project, Jo Anne, about women at the University. Each
of the members of the class will be interviewing at least one woman--not necessarily
all faculty, but the majority are faculty. I am interested particularly with the history of
your career being a little non-traditional, [with you] being a woman writing about
sports for United Press [International] (UPI). Could you give us a little background
from the point of your graduate school or your early schooling at the University of
Minnesota [and] how you got into academic journalism, coming from a career [as a
S: OK. [When I was a little girl] I had always had an ambition to write sports. My
favorite sportswriter was a person named Shirley Povich. It never occurred to me
for one minute that Shirley was not a woman. I did not know that there were any
ideas that women should not go into sportswriting. So that is what I decided I would
pursue. I had grown up, especially, on baseball, which was then and always has
been my favorite [sport].
When I went to the University of Minnesota and went into the journalism program,
one of the things we did as sophomores in our beginning writing class was
something they called "Hell Week." We had two assignments a day: one to come in
on a morning deadline and one to come in on an afternoon deadline. You signed up
in advance for the assignments, so I picked several sports things. The instructor
promptly told me that I had better cross those off the list because a number of the
male students were going to cover those things, and I would be at a great
competitive disadvantage. [He also told me] that this course was crucial--it was the
"flunk-out" course--so I had really best not attempt those things. Well, this made me
very angry, particularly since it was my ambition to cover sports. So I said I would
take my chances.
One of the things I covered was the Northwest Golden Gloves Tournament. On the
day that we had the critiques of the stories, the instructor took great pains to point
out how terrible the sports stories had been and that they were particularly
deplorable, [with] all the cliches and all the other things that were wrong with them.
But he said there was one that really stood out above the crowd. He started to read
it, and it was my story.
So I was very pleased, and some of the other students in the class suggested that I
go speak to the sports editor of the Minnesota Daily to see about working on the
school newspaper. So I did that and was assigned to--if you can imagine this in
Minnesota--the plum beat of Minnesota, tennis, which was barely played there at the
time. But that is what I started out with. Then I advanced to covering the hockey
team and the boxing team, and in my senior year [I] was named the sports editor of
C: Had there been a woman sports editor before you?
S: I think once on kind of an interim basis during World War II a woman plugged in.
This [my being appointed sports editor] caused all sorts of troubles that I had never
C: What year was this?
S: This would have been the 1950-1951 [academic] year. We had the NCAA track
meet there that year, and that was the first thing I was going to cover as sports
editor. So I went over there with my press passes and everything and went up to
the press box. There was a guard at the press box door, and he said no women
were allowed in the press box. I said that I was the sports editor of the school
newspaper. He said it did not make any difference; no women were allowed in the
school press box.
We got an appointment to see the man who was the athletic director, and he [also]
said no women [were allowed] in the press box and that they would absolutely have
kittens at the Minneapolis Star [if I were allowed in the press box] because the
sports editor there was the chairman of the National Press Box Committee.
Western Union operators, many of whom were women with seniority, had been
trying for years to get into the press box for football games because those were
plum assignments (you got time-and-a-half and that sort of thing), so they definitely
did not want to set an ugly precedent of letting a woman in the press box.
We got an appointment to see the president of the university, who at that time was a
man named James Lewis Morrill. Dr. Morrill, after hearing my story, got this very
stern look and said, "That's absolutely terrible!" I thought, Oh, my gosh! I am going
to be thrown out of school or something. Then he said, "If there is one person who
deserves to be in the university's press box, it is the sports editor of the university's
newspaper." Then he said, "I will call the people at the Minneapolis Star or
whomever and tell them if they would like to sit outside they may, but you are going
to sit in the press box." Anyway, I got in the press box. Then, of course, Western
Union's women raised a terrible uproar, and they got in the press box. That was the
breaking into the press box at the University of Minnesota.
C: Did that make news at the time?
S: A little bit. There was some notice of it. Certainly in our paper we took note of it,
and there was a brief notice of it in the local press. They did not really fight it to the
extent that I thought they might. They thought: "Well, it is kind of an aberrational
thing. There will not be many more like this, and we will tolerate it." Of course, they
let me know that the language was really going to stand my hair on end and that I
would be very sorry that I had come into the press box environment. [laughter] At
any rate, that is how all that began. So it was kind of a traumatic beginning as a
I started "stringing" when I was still in college; [I] did that for the Chicago Tribune. I
worked with both Arch Ward, who I think many people thought was one of the great
sportswriters of the time, and Wilbur Smith of the Tribune. [I] covered play-by-play of
things like football games and so on that they would send back for their early edition.
I was also stringing for what was then United Press and later became UPI [United
C: Maybe we ought to define "stringing" for the non-historians. [laughter]
S: Well, a stringer is someone who is [not] actually on the staff of that publication who
is paid, usually, by the inch of copy for coverage of special events for that particular
publication or operation.
C: Could you make a lot of money at the time?
S: [laughter] Very little. I think some places paid stringers as little as three cents an
inch in those days. I think the term originates from the idea that in the old days
people would literally mail in a string that was as long as their number of inches [of
typed copy] in order to be paid for that work.
C: So you did this up until graduation?
C: What was your first job out of school?
S: I went to a small daily newspaper in north-central Wisconsin called the Rhinelander
Daily News. I was employed as both its wire editor and its sports editor, so I was
doing both of those jobs. I was the first person there in the morning to clear the wire
and lay out the front page and all of that sort of thing, and I also covered the sports
C: Were you primarily handling the coverage from the news wires [that were] national
and international in scope?
S: Yes. As I said, I did the front-page layout and wrote all the headlines for the wire
news that was used anywhere in the newspaper. Then [I] laid out the sports page
and edited the wire news for that. I covered the local things [as well].
C: How many women were in your graduating class in journalism? Now, your degree
was in journalism. Is that correct?
S: Yes, my degree was in journalism. I had what in some programs would have
amounted to a double major. I actually had more credits in English than in
journalism, but they were not structured, so my major was journalism.
I do not remember [how many women were in my class]. I know certainly that the
class was dominantly male, but I do not remember the exact proportions. However,
on our school newspaper, we did have a woman student as our city editor and a
woman student as our copy editor. The big jobs--executive editor and managing
editor and editor of the editorial page--were [all held by] men. Then, of course, I
guess it was considered rather peculiar to have a woman sports editor. They always
called me Jo, by the way, so that was left ambiguous. [laughter]
C: Did it ever surprise people?
S: Oh, yes. The coaches, some of them, [were aghast], particularly [the boxing coach]
when I first went over to cover boxing. The boxing coach really raised some
eyebrows about having a woman hanging around where the boys were working out
prior to the boxing matches and so on. He came to be quite a good friend of mine,
and we corresponded for some years after I left the university. But he really, at first,
thought, Well, this is the craziest thing I have ever heard of. It took a little while to
get him used to the idea.
C: OK. You then worked for some years at United Press.
S: Yes, about four.
C: Specializing in sports?
S: We were not a large-enough bureau. I was in the Twin Cities Bureau--
Minneapolis/St. Paul--and those medium-sized bureaus really do not have anyone
assigned as a specialist to anything. There were only two of us in the bureau who
had a particular interest in sports, so he and I took on all the sports assignments,
except for very major football games and so on when the bureau manager always
wanted to grab that for himself. [laughter] Other than those things, the two of us
covered [the sports events].
For four years running I covered one of the things I really enjoyed: the state high
school basketball tournament. That was a madhouse that went on all day long.
Minnesota has an open high school basketball tournament, so the littlest schools
play the biggest ones. You would get these tremendous mismatches where some
little town with 300 population would be up against some major Minneapolis high
school. It was always the David and Goliath factor. It was very dramatic, and every
once in a while one of these little bitty teams would make it maybe all the way to the
finals or the semi-finals. They would bring the whole town with them, and it was just
lots of fun. I enjoyed that.
C: When did you go to graduate school?
S: I had been at United Press for about four years, and the wire services is a young
person's game--or was at that time. In that length of time, I had gone from low man
on the totem pole to top in seniority. What often happens at that point is they talk to
you about possibly going into management. Much of the management type of work
is sales where you are out selling the service. I was a news person at heart, and I
really did not want to do that. Also, while at United Press I had had some
experience with the legal problems that sometimes are encountered in news-
oriented things. I became very interested in those, and I thought I would really like
to learn more about that. So I thought that perhaps I would like to go back to school
and see if I could specialize--if there was any way to specialize--in communications
law and learn more about the origins of those problems and how they are handled
and so on. I decided that rather than go into sales work I would rather go back and
To finance it I had to take a teaching assistantship. I had never even thought about
teaching. My favorite teacher had always said to me: "Jo Anne, if there is one thing
you never want to do, [it] is teach. Don't ever teach!" I believed him, and I never
had that [teaching] in mind. But I kind of became intrigued by it as a teaching
assistant and decided I would like to try it somewhere one year full time and see
what would happen.
C: So when you were getting ready to graduate with your master's degree, you thought
you would start and see if you would like teaching despite the advice of your
C: What was the name of that professor? Do you remember?
S: Yes. His name was Lou Patterson, and he worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
He was one of the instructors who came in almost on an adjunct basis and taught
reporting, and I just adored him. He was a tough, crusty newsman-type, and I
thought he was wonderful.
C: But in spite of his advice [you went into teaching]. How did you find out about the
job opening in Gainesville at the University of Florida?
S: This was not the first place I taught. I taught one year [on an interim basis] at the
University of North Carolina. Ralph Casey, who was the dean [of journalism] at
Minnesota, was good friends with Norval Neil Luxon, who was the dean [of
journalism] at North Carolina at that time, and I think it was sort of through that
friendship that I was recommended to [the University of] North Carolina. So I went
there to teach at Chapel Hill. It seems to me that was the 1957-1958 school year,
because between that and Gainesville I worked a year as a free-lance editor in New
York. So Chapel Hill was my first teaching [position].
C: And then you did free-lance work in New York.
S: Yes. Well, this may have some bearing on your theme of what happened to women
in these areas. They had told me at North Carolina when I had expressed an
interest in maybe taking on a teaching career in the area of communications law
[that] communications law was a man's course and that I needed to prepare myself
to teach women's courses, which would be [courses in] either feature writing or
public relations. I had no experience [in those areas]. I had been a hard-news kind
of person at United Press, and I had no experience whatsoever in public relations.
So I went to New York with the idea of maybe getting some sort of a public relations
job. I had an old friend from Rhinelander [Daily News] who was working there for
the Shell Oil Company, and [she] said that I could room with her and her other
roommates. My thought was that I would go into public relations. I got a public
relations job that I stayed with for only about a month because one of the first things
that they asked me to do struck me, with my news background, [as unethical]. I am
not saying this was typical of public relations, but they had suggested to me that I
C: What was the company?
S: This was an association that represented a part of the textile industry. What they
did was have you do interviews with fashion designers and so on, [asking them] why
they used this particular kind of fabric in their line of clothing and what the
advantages of this and that kind of fabric might happen to be. If I had not made the
fabric sound wonderful enough [in my report], they suggested that I just invent these
words and put them in the mouths of the fashion designers. I said [that] I would be
glad to go back and talk to the fashion designers again, but I was not going to invent
quotes. So we got to sort of an impasse over my values and their values, and I
decided that this was not for me.
C: What was the name of that company?
S: It was an association that represented the cotton industry. I do not remember the
exact name of it. That is something I have tried to forget. [laughter]
Anyway, I spent the rest of that year in New York doing free-lance editing kinds of
things. I worked for Macmillan and Pocket Books and Abram's Art Books. I did
things like read manuscripts and also did a good bit of proof reading on galley
proofs. What they do is farm out the proofs of a book to maybe five proof readers,
and then they would collate the [corrections of the] different proof readers,
[comparing] what one had found against what the others had found. Then they
would send you kind of a little scorecard. They would say, "There were 583 errors in
so-and-so's book, and you caught this percent or this number of them. So you knew
how you stood against the other people. I have saved one of those all my life,
because in a 300-some-page book I had caught every error. I was very pleased
But that is what I did in that year [before] I got the offer here in Florida. Rae Weimer
[dean, College of Journalism] was given my name by Dean Luxon at North Carolina.
Rae was trying at the very last minute--this was in August, I think--to fill a slot. He
has often told [me] that I am the only person he ever hired sight unseen.
C: Well, I was wondering what it was like when you came for interviews.
S: I did not come.
C: You say you were actually hired ...
S: ... on the telephone. [laughter]
C: Did he call you? Did he interview you?
S: Yes. Well, sort of. We had a long telephone conversation, and I thought, Well, that
sounds like a man who would be fun to work for. I had never, of course, set foot in
the state of Florida. I had no idea of what I was coming into or anything, but he
offered and I accepted on the telephone.
I came down here from New York on the train. When you hit that last stretch
between here and Jacksonville where it is just piney woods and looks like so many
matchsticks with the light shining through, I thought: Oh, my gosh! I have gone off
into a desolate wilderness. What in the world have I done to myself? I will never
stay here. When I saw the first humongous bugs and saw for the first time in my life
mildew and so on, I thought, Oh, this is the most terrible place! And the first twenty-
seven days I was in Gainesville it rained every single day. Of course, I was out
trying to establish utilities and buy groceries and all of that sort of thing. I really
thought, Oh, this is a miserable place! And here I am all these years later.
[laughter] I am still here.
C: And that was 1959?
S: Yes, 1959.
C: What was Gainesville like and what was the University like? What were your
impressions? Enrollment here was in the neighborhood of 13,000 or 14,000?
S: I think. Of course, I thought it was huge because I had come from North Carolina,
which at the time, I think, had about 7,000. So it was a much larger place than
North Carolina. However, I had sought ahead of time a little pamphlet; I think it was
from the chamber of commerce. One of the things that had really made me feel
very optimistic was a sentence in there that said, "Gainesville is located in a hilly
region." Well, I came from country with massive river bluffs and tall rolling hills
around them, so I was picturing that. I thought: Oh, wonderful. That is going to be
grand. I got here, and it seemed to me as flat as a pancake as any place I had ever
seen in my life. I thought, Where are these hills? Perhaps in relation to south
Florida this is hilly, but in relation to anything I had ever seen it definitely was not.
This [place] had a very small-town atmosphere, [though] not in the way Chapel Hill
did. [Gainesville] was not as little as that. But definitely you felt the small-town
[ambience]. Of course, I had come from New York, for heaven's sake, so this
seemed to be a very small-town environment. We would walk downtown. All the
major stores were downtown then, many of them around the square. Sears was
downtown and Belk was downtown and old Wilson's [Department Store] and all
those places [were on the square downtown].
There were very few good restaurants. It was mostly all just little fast-food and
hamburger places along maybe [U.S. Highway] 441 and so on. The first time a
colleague invited me to go out to dinner we kept driving and driving, and I thought,
Where in the world are we going to dinner? Of course, this was a dry county, and it
was a great treat for everybody to go across the county line into Marion County to a
place called Ruby's [Restaurant, located on 441]. That was my first treat for dinner:
to be taken to Ruby's where we could get a drink! [It was] across the county line,
and [we] could have dinner there. My first impression was this was a small,
retarded, rural area that I have come to. [laughter]
C: How many faculty were there? What was the breakdown between men and women
on the faculty?
S: I think there may have been seventeen or eighteen on the [journalism] faculty, and I
believe I was the fourth woman. The others were all in broadcasting. We had May
Burton, Audrey Tittle, and Mickie then Newbill [but] now Edwardson on the
broadcasting faculty. There were no other women in journalism.
C: Was the student body at that time in the college primarily male?
S: I do not remember the exact ratio, but I remember the impression that it was
substantially a male population. There were many thoughts about what was and
what was not appropriate for women to do. I think there was still a hefty feeling that
women were preparing to go on to what in those days they called the "society page"
[and] that those were the [only] kinds of jobs that would be open to the women
C: What were your course assignments when you first came? I recall at the time that
one would be one in that category that was "safe" for women, which was a feature
S: Yes, I was teaching the feature writing course, and I was teaching the elementary
writing class. I think in those days we called it 201 and that had largely been the
child of Professor [Hugh W.] Cunningham. But the population of the college had
reached the point where he felt teaching everybody 201 was too much for one
person, and they had decided that they would split that duty. So I was teaching that
course using his outline. Also [I taught a radio newswriting course] I think perhaps
only because of the fact that at United Press I had for a time worked on what they
called the radio wire. I had not really had radio experience other than the fact that
as a senior at Minnesota I had been a newswriter for KUOM and had helped
prepare the noon newscast there. Other than that, I had no radio experience. But
they had a radio newswriting class that many of the broadcasting students took, and
[they] needed someone that year to fill that slot. I was the lucky one appointed to do
C: That class was a late-night class, I think you mentioned.
S: The broadcast [was late at night]. They were already having a student-produced
news show at WUFT [TV], although I do not think it was many years old at the time I
came here. They did not trust the students to operate within a fixed time frame, and
so the game plan was that the student news show was the last show of the day. It
started at 11:00, and then it would just indeterminately run twenty-three, twenty-four,
twenty-five minutes--or however it turned out--and then they would sign off for the
day. So we had a late night. I was the "news director" at WUFT and was in charge
of this student-produced news show.
C: So you would come [and] do your regular classes during the day. Would you then
come back at night?
S: Oh, yes. I would leave the building (back then we were in the stadium) at 5:00 or a
little thereafter and would have to be back by 7:00. We would work on all the news
assignments and so on through the evening and go on the air at 11:00. Then, after I
got home at about 11:45, I would still have papers to grade and that sort of thing.
So I did not get very much sleep those first years.
C: How long did you do this?
S: Oh, I think I handled the news show for only two or three years because they did get
some people in then--new employees--for the broadcasting faculty who were right
for the job. I was certainly not, I would think, anybody's first choice for that particular
job, although I enjoyed doing it. We learned a lot. The equipment was very
primitive as far as any kind of pictorial backup. Other than just "talking heads," we
had a couple of Polaroid cameras, and kids would go out and shoot these stills. We
would mount them on a display board, and the studio cameraman would move in
tight to match the still shot to its story. We rarely shot film, but when we did use film
it had to be feature film, because we had to put it on the bus to be developed in
Jacksonville, and [we would] get it back from there usually the next day or maybe
even two days later. So we worked under those kinds of handicaps. It astonishes
me to see now how sophisticated the equipment is [today].
C: It would have been nice to have [had] video cameras. [laughter]
S: Oh, yes, it would. [laughter] Also, of course, that studio that was down in the
basement of the stadium had a great big cement support pillar or something that
came right down through the middle of it. The artist who worked on staff then at the
television station had decided he would give us a very snazzy, new backdrop for the
news program. He had painted everything a kind of bright lemon yellow, and it
created tremendous dazzle and glare. You could just kind of see lights dancing as
you watched the newscast. I think we were on the air maybe two or three days with
the bright yellow background, and then he went in there and painted everything
C: When did you begin teaching the communications law course?
S: I think I had been here maybe four years or five. I had taught eleven courses--just
anything that was left over. Of course, that was the course I was mainly interested
in. This, again, was a consequence of the college growing larger. Dr. Harry Griggs
was teaching the law course at the time and did not really want to teach two
sections of it. It had reached the point where we had enough students to fill two
sections of it, so I was plugged in as the second one in that course.
We taught it together--each of us a section of it--for some years thereafter. Then he
became very involved in [the] development of some of our graduate programs and
so on, and at that time, why, it was decided that I would specialize in the law course
and that he would leave it behind him. So much of the time from there on I taught
primarily [journalism] law and history. Occasionally [I would teach] one of the writing
courses, but after those first few years I started specializing in law and history.
C: During this time, was this still a pretty unusual situation for a woman to be on the
faculty? Were there any special practices that you were called on [to perform] as a
woman on the faculty? You had mentioned traveling overnight, I think.
S: Yes. Well, we sent out teams from the faculty of three or four persons to take part in
high school journalism conferences. We did this pretty solidly through both the fall
and the spring. Virtually every week three or four of the faculty from here would go
attend one of those. As several years passed, after I came here, I noted the fact
that I kept being sent to Ocala and Jacksonville. Being a newcomer to Florida and
knowing that they went all over the state, I thought, Well, gee, I would like to go to
some of these other places as well.
So I went in and inquired. I said, "Why don't I ever get sent to Fort Lauderdale or
Sarasota or someplace [else]?" Mr. Weimer looked kind of shocked, and he said,
"With those places there is a need to stay overnight." He did not think it would be
proper to send a female faculty member with male faculty members someplace
where they would have to stay overnight. I said, "Well, I will take my chances with
the danger from them to me, and I can assure you there is no danger to them from
me." [laughter] "Please, can I go to some of these other places?"
So they finally relented and picked out two faculty members who I think they thought
were the safest men. [laughter] And, no, I will not provide [their names]. [laughter]
But they allowed me to go, finally, to places where we had to stay overnight.
I also served many a duty as chaperon when clubs, particularly our advertising club,
would go on, say, a weekend conference to Tampa or someplace. The rule then
was that if you sent a mixed group of students anywhere where they were going to
stay overnight, you had to have mixed faculty along with them. There were no
women in advertising, so I was always elected to go along on these advertising
meeting trips so that the female students had a female chaperon along.
C: That was the in loco parents period.
S: [laughter] Definitely!
C: What are your recollections throughout the University during your early days as a
faculty member? Was there a lot of interaction with other women in other colleges?
Now, at this time this was a school [of journalism]; this was not [yet] a college [of
S: That is right. This was a school, and we were part of the [liberal] arts and sciences
college. So, for instance, [in] those faculty meetings where graduates were
approved and so on, we always went to the arts and sciences [meetings], and they
would call on Mr. Weimer. He would get up and speak for the School of Journalism.
So I really knew almost no women outside this college until the Association for
Women Faculty was founded.
C: That was really in the 1970s, was it not?
S: I think. It was quite a good time later. Through that [organization] I began to meet
some of the other women on campus. I did not really know very many up until that
time. I met one or two because I was advising some student groups, and one of
them was the Mortar Board [Society]. That, of course, was an across-campus sort
of thing, and I met one or two other women who worked closely with that
organization. We were kind of physically isolated, in a sense, in the stadium, so [I
was] not really in a position to [meet other women]. We were not in the center of the
campus where many of the other women faculty might have been located, and I just
never had occasion to meet many of them.
C: That was kind of a strange building to be in, as I recall, with funny things in the walls
and pigeons that used to live there and feral cats.
S: Yes, feral cats. I think one of the feral cats somehow got down through a loose
ceiling tile or something, and people were chasing it up and down the hall with metal
wastebaskets trying to capture it. We had many an adventure in the stadium. We
had hoped that we could send the feral cats downstairs, because I understood that
we had a rat problem in the mailroom. [laughter] If the two of them could have
gotten together ...
C: You and I have talked before about our mutual dislike of spiders. It seemed to me
that there were some pretty horrendous spiders that lived there.
S: Lee Frank, who was one of the broadcasting faculty members in those days, always
referred to them (I think they were wolf spiders) as "frying-pan-size." We would
have faculty meetings in one of the third-floor rooms of the stadium, and you could
just see people's attention wandering and their eyes following across the ceiling as
one of those huge spiders would come across the ceiling. Of course, you were
always wondering when it was going to drop down from the ceiling. [laughter]
C: There was a society for women called Women in Communications or Theta Sigma
Phi (it had a Greek name earlier). Were you active and involved with that group?
S: Oh, yes. I was the faculty advisor for the student group for many years, and then we
also had a professional group here in Gainesville. You and I both served as
president of that and at one point had a major conference--I think it was 1972, a
regional conference--and we were very proud of ourselves, because among the
speakers we were able to get here was Representative Shirley Chisholm, who was
that year a candidate for president. Edith Efron, I believe, was another of the
persons who spoke at that conference. [Edith Efron is a media critic and author of
The News Twisters.] We all worked very hard on that. It is something I certainly
C: You have worked--and we are bouncing back and forth from now to then and in the
middle--and have seen us become a college from a school and have worked for
three different deans. We have only had three deans in the college in its history.
What have you seen evolve in the college itself from the time you joined the faculty?
S: I think probably our early emphasis, as I perceived it at any rate, was on basic
writing skills. I think that was the great strength of the college in the early period that
I was here. I think much of that strength probably was carried by Hugh Cunningham
and [Horance G.] "Buddy" Davis. They were at the center of it, at least as far as
journalism was concerned.
Being smaller and having a smaller student body, I feel that at that time we were
much closer to our students, probably, than was true at a later time when there were
too many for anybody humanly to be close to. We were very well aware of such
things as their individual strengths and weaknesses. We used to have faculty
meetings at which we literally discussed problems of individual students.
I remember one in particular who was coming to us after a false start in another field
with only a 1.6 grade point average, and there was a great discussion about whether
or not to give this young man a chance. We had many indications that he did have
a strong verbal aptitude and a strong interest in journalism and just had been falsely
routed to begin with. We kind of as a group took that young man under our wing,
and he did very well and went on to become an editor on a state newspaper. It was
that sort of very personalized thing.
We also, I think, as a faculty had a great closeness where we would fill in for one
another and stick up for one another, and it was a very pleasant time to be here. I
can remember we used to go on faculty retreats first to some old campground
whose name I cannot remember and then later to what used to be a Florida
attraction called Rainbow Springs.
C: That is down by Dunnellon.
S: Yes, and it was a very lovely location. We could go out on the water. They had a
big old kind of a tour boat. We would go out on the water, and we would come back
and play Ping-Pong on the back porch and have meetings that lasted way into the
night in which we discussed what direction the college should go and curriculum
problems and the rest.
I remember the time we made the transition from school to college. I think that
[caused] one of the bitterest debates we ever became involved in, and [it] was over
one [of] the silliest of reasons: we could not agree on what the new college would be
called. It was at a time when the word communication was becoming very popular,
and the journalism contingent was very averse to sacrificing the word journalism. So
we got terribly [worked up] and in a big debate over this. Words got rather harsh. I
was setting next to a very quiet faculty member, Dr. Harry Griggs, who had a lovely,
delicious, wry sense of humor. He finally said we should call this Communications
Related Arts and Practices because the acronym would be so apropos. [laughter]
That finally broke up the argument. As you know, we are the College of Journalism
and Communications. So nobody won, I guess.
C: Or everybody won. [laughter]
C: What do you see as the strengths of the kind of teaching approach that you tried to
have with your students? [It] was very one-on-one as much as possible, evolving
into a large lecture group, trying to have some small discussion groups, and the kind
of examinations you gave were very much non-machine graded. You did much of
the essay work--late hours, long hours--for many, many years. Can you talk a little
about your philosophy of teaching students?
S: Particularly in a field such as law--which, to me, does not have answers so much as
it has propositions, and you have to say, "Well, if this, this, and this are true, then
perhaps this will be the outcome, but perhaps that also" (you know, it is sort of that
old lawyer's phrase, "It depends")--I felt like you could not give cut-and-dried kinds of
exams in an "it depends" kind of course. It became a tremendous back breaker to
grade the numbers of papers--particularly when we started holding the course in the
auditorium, which holds, I believe, somewhere in the neighborhood of 280 or
something of that sort. And then you think about grading that many papers that
have subjective answers and doing it largely on your own, [and you realize] it was
not [easy]. It was very difficult.
It was hard to kind of keep your enthusiasm for continuing to do that, but I felt as
though it was the only right thing to do [and] that there just was no way you could cut
that kind of material into something that had exact A-B-C kinds of answers. I tried
[to personalize the course further] through the discussion sections, which were done
at my behest. I do not even know if they still exist, but, at any rate, I insisted upon
having the students in small groups at least one day of the week. One misfortune of
that insistence was that I taught all of the discussion sections as well as the
graduate seminar. So it really did become pretty arduous over [time].
C: How many students did you teach, say, in a two-semester year?
S: Well, I would say often maybe close to 700, I suppose. They said [at] the time I left
here that I had had more than 10,000 students over the period that I had been here.
C: How long did you teach? How many years?
S: I was here for twenty-nine years. Of course, in the early days we had relatively
small classes. I think we felt very abused if we had forty [students]. I can remember
fussing about having a class of forty, and never even in my wildest dreams [did I]
envision having a class of nearly 300. [laughter]
C: Do certain former students stick out in your mind?
S: Oh, definitely, surely. And I still hear from quite a number of them and keep track of
different ones who touch base with me when they change jobs or whatever. In fact,
just within the past week I have heard from probably three. It always seemed to me
as though the nicest thing about teaching, and the one thing that I liked about it over
journalism, was that the product--if you can call it that--was people. They are so
much more interesting than anything you can put on a piece of paper, or at least it
seemed so to me. I really very much enjoyed the classroom teaching. I did not
necessarily enjoy some of the other things that go with being a faculty member, but I
very much enjoyed the classroom teaching.
C: How did you feel the first day of retirement?
S: Wonderful! [laughter]
C: I wonder how many people say that. [laughter]
S: That is not necessarily a testimony to anything about anything but myself. I tend to
be someone who likes to close doors firmly behind me. I am not much of one to live
in the past. I am sort of future-oriented, so once I am done with something I am
done with it. I really did not take any backward glances. I gave away all of my
professional materials. I gave all my books to the library and all my files to my
successors. I carried home one little cardboard box full of things like a pencil holder
and some things like that that had been in my office, and that was the extent of what
I carried over. I do not subscribe to the professional publications any longer. I just
feel like that is a closed chapter. I do not say that with any lack of respect for what I
did in the years I was doing it. I was very committed to it at the time. But I just feel
like that is another life lived by another part of me a while ago. [laughter]
C: I know occasionally you get together with some of the retired members of the
faculty. Can you spell out who they are and what you all do and some of the things
you talk about at your lunches?
S: Well, I get together with Rae Weimer, who, of course, was the director (as they
called it in those days) when I first came here; with Charlie Wellborn, who was a
long time on the public relations faculty; with Katie Lewis, who was kind of the
executive office person during Mr. Weimer's time; with Arthur Jacobs, who was on
the broadcasting faculty; and with Hettie Glenn, who was for a long time a
bookkeeper here and later a departmental secretary. We are kind of a mixed group
but all just kind of old friends.
I guess the one thing we do not talk about is what we did here. We are just kind of
keeping in touch with one another, and we care about one another. We are just kind
of touching base and being friends, which we did not have as much time to do at
that time as we do now. This is kind of a luxury and an enjoyment thing. We will get
a round table at some restaurant and all enjoy lunch together and linger over it.
Nobody has to get back to the office, and it is just a very nice thing to do.
C: I am intrigued about your family. It must have been very unusual when you decided
to go to college and study and let it be known to your folks that you really wanted to
specialize in sports journalism. How did your family react to that?
S: I do not think they were very surprised. It is kind of a family joke that when I was
literally a baby in the cradle they used to turn the radio on to amuse me. If they
would go around the dial, the one thing that always caught my interest was the
baseball game. I would coo and giggle and kick and think that was grand. People
would come home in the evening and ask, "Well, how is the baby?" "Oh, she is fine.
She listened to the ball game." I think about my second full sentence was, "I want
to go to the ball game." They decided when I was three that maybe I would last a
few innings. So my mother got a couple of ladies' day tickets to take me to the ball
game, and I lasted the whole nine innings.
C: What team was this?
S: Minneapolis in those days--of course, this was prior to the Twins--had a triple-A
team called the Minneapolis Millers that played in an old bandbox ballpark called
Nicollet Park. It had a little, very short right-field wall, so it was a home run mecca.
We had great players who played there when I was a little child. The first game I
went to, a great home run hitter named Joe Hauser hit one of his home runs. He
held the all-baseball record for home runs in a season for something like forty years.
He hit something like sixty-nine, I think it was, that season  for the
Minneapolis Millers. So that was, of course, a great event. There was some man
sitting next to me. He had on one of those little, old, flat straw hats like men used to
wear in the summertime. He grabbed me and lifted me up, because everyone was
standing up, over the crowd so I could see Joe Hauser coming around the bases
after that home run.
Oh, my, if I had been hooked by the radio, I was hooked by the event. I just wanted
to do something that would connect me with baseball. That was really my first love--
baseball. And since all of my teachers had always seemed to think I was good in
writing, I thought that maybe that would be one way I could put the two things
together: to get into sports writing and stay close to baseball.
I do not think that my family was surprised. I think they knew very little about
journalism and did not realize what a hard road I was taking on as far as wanting to
go into that part of journalism. I do not think anyone gave much thought to the fact
that it was not a field open to women. They just said, "Well, go to it."
The other thing that I had considered was veterinary medicine. Of course, in those
days they did not take women in veterinary medicine at all--at least not at the
University of Minnesota. So when I listed two choices [on the application to enroll at
Minnesota], they said, "Well, you cannot go into the vet school, so you will have to
go into journalism."
C: You mentioned Shirley Povich. Did you also have other sports writers that you
followed, [like] say, Red Smith?
S: Oh, I thought Red Smith was wonderful, of course. [He was the author of a widely
respected and reprinted column in the New York Tribune. Some people regard him
as the finest sportswriter of all time.] But I was not acquainted with his writing until a
later time. We also had a very wonderful baseball broadcaster [for WCCO Radio] in
Minneapolis named Halsey Hall. I do not think I have ever heard anyone broadcast
anything whose whole voice and demeanor showed such obvious delight in it. He
just was thoroughly enjoying every minute of that ball game. It was the most
miraculous thing. You just sensed that zest and that joy, and what he was
beholding in it seemed to you [that] it must be the most wonderful thing in the world.
I guess maybe the first thing I was addicted to was probably Halsey Hall's voice and
wanting to see this wonderful thing that he was describing. Then I finally got the
chance to see it, and I thought it was just as wonderful as he said it was.
C: Do you go to the Gator games now?
S: Oh, yes.
C: You continue to follow baseball?
S: My first post-retirement present to myself was a season ticket, and I do not believe I
have missed more than two or three games in the four years since I have retired. I
C: What about spring training?
S: I rarely get a chance. I would take any opportunity, but I rarely get the chance to go.
Whenever I have had the opportunity [I go]. And I have been over the years to
Winter Haven, I have been to Lakeland, and I have been to Bradenton when they
used to be there. And, of course, [I have been] to Orlando many times when the
[Minnesota] Twins were there. (Of course, they are now down at Fort Myers.) I
[have been] to St. Petersburg and quite a few of the spring training camps. I have
always enjoyed doing that when I have the opportunity to do it.
C: There are a number of names that we have talked about, and I think this is a good
pausing point to talk about some of the people that you recall having been [involved
with]--not just with this college but throughout the University, [such as] maybe some
of the past presidents, [like] Dr. [J. Wayne] Reitz, who I guess was president [while
you were here]. Was he president when you came?
S: I believe he was president the year I came here. [Reitz was president 1955-1967.
Ed.] One of the things that maybe brings out that smallness [of the University] or
maybe speaks well of his abilities was that he seemed to know everyone by name
and always spoke to me by name when I would pass him on campus. That seemed
a rather wonderful thing to have the university president know who you were. So I
remember him very fondly and still see him once in a while. We go to the same
doctor, so once in a while I see him in the doctor's waiting room or other places. I
know that he has kept very close ties with the University. I also have season tickets
to the basketball games and usually see him there. He is someone I remember,
certainly, very fondly.
[One of] the larger-than-life faculty figures on campus, I would have to think, was
Manning Dauer [distinguished service professor, Department of Political Science]. I
have fond memories of serving on committees with him. Of all the times that his
expertise was sought by the Florida legislature ... He was certainly a very
prominent figure on campus.
I think probably that, despite the bugs, the mildew, the rain, and so on, the main
reason I stayed in Gainesville was [out] of personal loyalty to Rae Weimer. I really
feel that he was an outstanding administrator whose faculty felt great loyalty toward
him. I have always laughed at something he said to me one time. He gave me a
kind-of hug and said, "Jo Anne, I love you to death, but I do not want another one
like you." [laughter]
He had this ecumenical kind of philosophy that prompted him to bring in as much
variety [and] get people from a lot of different places with a lot of different interests
and areas of specialization and so on. We were a wild mixture. I remember in
some other parts on campus we were even referred to as "the zoo." [laughter] But I
think it was a healthy mix. Our faculty meetings were very lively. Sometimes they
got contentious, but there was always an undercurrent of togetherness. We were
after the same goal, and that was to make this an outstanding journalism program. I
think that goal glued us together, even though sometimes we disagreed on how we
would arrive at that goal. But we were quite close in many ways.
C: What do you recall about Ruth Weimer, Rae's wife? Did she have a particular role
in the college in those formative years?
S: Oh, very much so. I think Ruth was the founder of the then Theta Sigma Phi--later
Women in Communication--group on the campus and stayed very active in that
group all her life. I think in some ways Rae was a father figure, perhaps, and she
was equally a mother figure.
I remember the first year I came here, of course, [I was] saddled with things I had
never taught before. Since it was my first year I was just barely keeping one nostril
above the water line. I was astonished when I was told they let people off here for
Homecoming and that you had a whole Friday off. I was really looking forward to
that Friday. I was going to catch up, and if I had any time left over I was just going
to relax and enjoy myself. I was preparing to enjoy this Friday when the telephone
rang. It was Ruth, and she said, "I am going to be over to take you to the
Homecoming Parade as a new faculty member." As much as I loved Ruth Weimer--
and I did love Ruth Weimer--that was one day I was not particularly glad to see her.
C: Well, it seems to me that she is someone we do not talk about a lot now. Over time,
of course, and since she has just died, I knew that you would probably recall some
instances where she was very much involved in [the college], and not just as the
wife of the dean and as the hostess of the college.
S: Well, she was a journalist herself, and I think for many years [she] worked down at
the Gainesville Sun. So, of course, she had more than just a secondary interest in
the things that were going on here. She was very knowledgeable about them and
involved in the field herself.
C: She was a professional newspaper woman at the time her husband was dean, so
she had a dual function, really, as a role model for the students and the community.
C: What about sabbaticals? During all of those twenty-nine years, did you ever have a
formal sabbatical? Did you have an opportunity to go away? What did you do?
S: Well, way toward the end, finally, in the middle 1980s--I think it was probably about
four or five years before I retired--I did take a sabbatical. I was interested [in
updating my knowledge in journalism law]. For instance, there had been a great
many changes in the copyright law, and I felt that I was maybe not quite up to speed
on that. So during that sabbatical year I went over to the law school and took the
course (just as an auditor) on patents, trademarks, and copyright. Then there were
a couple of outstanding media law conferences that year that were out of state that I
attended. Also, [I] just did a lot of studying and research on my own, mainly into
copyright. I am sure it is all out of date once again. [laughter] At any rate, it was
something I felt the need to catch up on, and that was my main concentration that
year of my sabbatical.
C: We shared an interest in First Amendment issues and First Amendment law and
have gone on some conferences. Have you continued your interest in that area?
S: I am interested in it, but I do not pursue it. Once in a while something might catch
my attention that I will read about, but I felt, again, as though I wanted to leave
[certain things] behind me. I wanted really to do things very differently now that I am
retired. I felt as though I have been so involved for so many years in verbal things
that I wanted to get away from words. I did not want to write; I did not want to do a
lot of reading other than reading sheerly for pleasure. I was hoping I could find once
again maybe some delightful reading as I had delighted in reading as a child. I have
gone back to reading whimsical things, reading some poetry again, and that sort of
thing. I do not want to read textbooks and journal articles and that sort of thing.
Also, I have had a great hunger to do things with my hands. I have no particular
skills of any sort, but I had seen in the Smithsonian publications a beautiful replica of
a home that had been owned by President Grover Cleveland after he retired from
the presidency. It was a New Jersey home and a beautiful house. With no
knowledge whatever of anything about this, I went off the total deep end and
ordered the kit with which to build [a scale model of] this house. It came in two huge
boxes [that contained] all of these little teeny pieces of wood. They were bundled
up, and it would say [something] like "Bundle 57: 109 pieces of window mullion" or
something. There was a thirty-seven-page, single-spaced booklet, and the first
thing it said was, "This will take more than one pair of hands." Since I only had one
pair of hands I thought: What am I going to do? I have these two big boxes of little
old pieces of wood and one pair of hands.
I had up the street from me a young man who was a building construction major. I
hired him to come and help me put together the basic shell of this house. Once we
got past the point where it took two pair of hands, I went on [to] the rest of it on my
own and did the whole thing just like you would construct a house. [I] put in the
wiring and the woodwork and the flooring and the wallpaper and the ceiling panels
and everything you can imagine. Then I totally furnished it and even had a
dollmaker out in California make me a Grover Cleveland doll to put in the study.
I read a great deal about the Clevelands. It is not an authentic reproduction of the
furnishings of their house, which I never have seen, but I tried to keep it true to the
flavor of their interests. She collected caged birds, and he liked to play cribbage. I
had to write thirty-six letters to find [a company that carried] a [miniature] cribbage
board. It was great fun for me to do something that was so different from what I had
done for so many years.
C: And you learned a lot of history about the Grover Cleveland period.
S: I certainly did. History has always been a great interest of mine, so it was not totally
divorced [from my older pursuits]. But it was a lot of fun to do.
C: Do you still have the house?
S: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I was greatly flattered. I had some old glassware that
had come down in our family from my great-grandmother, and I had decided that
since I had a great respect for the glass collection over at the Lightner Museum in
St. Augustine [I would] offer to leave them these pieces of glass in my will. When
the representative of the museum was at the house, she asked me if they might
have the doll house as well. So it will eventually go to the Lightner Museum in St.
C: Oh, what a good thing!
We want to have interviews within this year, I hope, with all our retired faculty.
S: It is a great group! [laughter]
C: We know that. Gosh, we miss everybody. What we would like to have on record is
certainly the transcript of the interviews so that anyone interested in the college, in
the period of growth of the college, or for whatever reason--students and historical
scholars, grad students, undergraduate students--can use our files to get the flavor
of the college. What are things that you would like to be remembered most for in the
twenty-nine years that you were here? I know you valued teaching--you were
honored by the students more than once as being the outstanding teacher in our
college. What are the things that you think back upon as your legacy to the college?
S: Well, I hope it was primarily as a teacher. That was what meant the most to me. I
always felt as though sometimes we have--or at least I had--going into teaching an
exaggerated idea of "making a difference." I realized as time went on that one
person does not usually make that large of a difference. But it always seemed to
me that a central part of collegiality was an idea that all of us together were capable
of making a difference. I hope that whatever little drops I put in that ocean were
ones that were well considered.
I felt very strongly about the idea of fairness. [That was] a large part of something
that meant a great deal to me. I always hoped that I dealt with people fairly and
would be known for that. It was important to me to be even-handed and not be seen
as having any axes to grind or having any prejudices against any groups or
individuals or what have you. I am proud of the fact that a great many of my
students tell me that I turned them on to an interest in legal matters, and many of my
students went on to law school. At the time I retired I got lots and lots of letters from
all over, and I was astonished how many of them were from judges and attorneys
who said, "I took your class back in" so-in-so, "and it was then I first realized that I
had this . ." I feel as though that is what it really ought to be all about. Each
person, somewhere along the way, has to find something that lights his or her fire,
and if you can do that for someone, you have done something to be content about
or are happy that you have made that contribution.
C: I think that is a great grand finale. This is a good place to end the formal interview.