Photo: Sarah Andrews
Mary Bryson’s name normally appears in conjunction with her internationally famous son, author Bill Bryson, but she is a celebrity in her own right. In 1935, Bryson, then Mary McGuire, became the first female Editor-In-Chief of The Times-Delphic.
“It seems in my day, girls didn’t go for journalism a lot,” Bryson said. “Newspapers didn’t hire many women either, except for the women’s department, and society… Boys were everything.”
GREAT DEPRESSION RESTRICTIONS
Bryson grew up in Omaha, where her father worked at the stockyards during the Great Depression. She said she had been mostly unaware of the economic malaise gripping the country because her father had a job.
She developed a passion for journalism in high school and was offered a scholarship from Drake. Without financial aid, attending Drake would have been impossible.
“I would guess that maybe half the students were on scholarships or free,” Bryson said. “Nobody could afford Drake tuition.”
According to Bryson, most of Drake’s journalism students in the 1930s were involved in the newspaper.
“You got credit for the number of things you had published,” Bryson said. “And if you got something published in the Register… well then you were really famous!”
Her selection as Editor-in-Chief of The Times-Delphic in 1935 surprised many, but she didn’t face any strong opposition in assuming the job.
“Everybody was surprised that they picked a girl,” Bryson said. “I didn’t have any trouble. I enjoyed it.”
Bryson said the newspaper normally covered campus news and features, never straying into global issues such as the growing unrest in Europe at the time that eventually led to World War II.
In the 1930s, studying abroad was virtually unknown. Drake students didn’t travel much. Bryson could remember knowing only one student from another country.
“We didn’t travel a lot. In fact, I hadn’t been out of Iowa and Nebraska until I got out of college, and that was true of most people,” Bryson said. “They have more money now. We didn’t have any.”
Sorority life became an important part of Bryson’s college career after she joined Alpha Xi Delta, a social sorority. In 1935 she was the president of the sorority. Bryson said that whenever a sorority or fraternity would hold a dance, The Times-Delphic would often run a list of names of boys and their female guests.
“Once in a while, the sorority or fraternity would rent a place where you could dance, but lots of times you could just do it at the fraternity house,” Bryson said. “Things were a little more simple… No one had much money. We kept them pretty simple.”
Bryson said football was the most popular sport at Drake. In addition to their studies and time on the field, athletes usually had university jobs that typically required manual labor, such as cutting grass, Bryson said. Women’s sports were virtually non-existent, although gym class was required.
Bryson said she remembers Drake Relays as a major event. During her time at Drake, she was once elected the Drake Relays Queen.
“It didn’t mean anything, but we got to go to free lunches,” Bryson said.
THE DES MOINES REGISTER
Following graduation, Bryson immediately started at the Des Moines Register where she worked in the society and women’s pages. It was there she met her husband, William, who worked in the sports section.
“One of the girls came in and said, ‘There’s a new boy! There’s a new boy in sports!’” Bryson recalled, smiling. “So we all marched past there sometime during the day and looked in, and he asked me on a date. He was just on the desk there. And then we got married.”
William and Mary Bryson had a total of four children. Mary Bryson reads her famous son’s books. Bill Bryson has become the United Kingdom’s best selling non-fiction author since official records began. But she still calls him ‘Billy.’
On college during the Depression: “It was the hard times, job scares, lots and lots of people out of work, and nobody had a lot of money, but tuition was cheap, if you couldn’t pay it, they helped you, gave you a job on the campus, I think all the athletes had a job cutting the grass.”