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NHS to showcase pioneering woman

The Natchez Historical Society will host the annual Grace McNeil lecture at the Natchez Visitor Center on Tuesday. This event was made possible by an endowment from the family of Grace McNeil. As befits the legacy of the amazing McNeil, the life and work of another amazing woman will be discussed. Based on Dorothy Sample Shawhan’s book “Fannye Cook: Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist,” the program includes a book signing and a theatrical reincarnation of Cook.

Fannye A. Cook (1889-1964 ), the most widely known scientist in Mississippi, was nationally known as the go-to person for biological information of the state.

A pioneer among scientists, conservationists, and women, Cook lived in a time when women couldn’t vote and were considered unsuited for politics and science.

A 1911 graduate of what is now the Mississippi University for Women, she led a grassroots effort to implement game laws and protect the environment, was the driving force behind creating the Game and Fish Commission (now the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks) and the founder of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, which bears her name. Cook catalogued Mississippi’s flora and fauna. Her accomplishments tell us about her mettle as a woman and a Mississippian.

In an Amazon review of the book, Brad Young, the executive direction of MFW, wrote: “Ms. Cook’s tenacity and passion for Mississippi wildlife would not be denied. …the fruits of her labors will be seen for generations to come. The people and wildlife of the state owe her a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”

Author Dorothy Sample Shawhan (1942 ̶ 2014) died before final edits were complete. She held degrees from Mississippi University for Women (BA), Louisiana State University (MA), and George Mason University (MFA). She taught at Delta State University, serving as chair of the Division of Languages and Literature. Published widely in literary and scholarly journals, she also wrote several books.

Fittingly, the presenters include three women who have contributed to preserving the legacy of Cook. After Shawhan’s death, the book was co-edited by two well-known scholars, Marion Barnwell and Libby Hartfield. 

Barnwell, professor emerita in The Division of Languages and Literature at Delta State University, has numerous author credits to her name, including “A Place Called Mississippi” and “Mad Dogs and Moonshine.”

Hartfield is the retired director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. A biologist and science educator, she is the co-host of the popular radio program, “Creature Comforts,” on Mississippi Public Radio and is the coordinator for Wildlife Mississippi’s Fannye Cook Natural Area in Rankin County.

Cathy Shropshire, a wildlife biologist, has performed as Cook in venues throughout Mississippi. She is retired from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks and served for over 11 years as executive director of the MWF.

Please note the change in usual venue to Natchez Visitor Center. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by program at 7 p.m. with book signing by presenters to follow. All are welcome.

Maria Bowser is publicity chair for the Natchez Historical Society.

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