Mildred Matthews

Areas of Achievement: 
Community Building
Higher Education
Home Making
support of native women in Alaska

Honored By

Honored by: Vest, Norvene & Whitney, Maxine
Date submitted: July 01, 2008
Gift: Tree

A Story of Mildred Matthews

Guts and fun! With this phrase, Dr. Matthews described women's leadership in an article she wrote in 1975 on 'The Life and Times of a Woman Administrator.' It is an apt phrase to describe her life. Mildred began her career in the 1940's, a slightly shy West Texan gal with a degree in Home Economics, teaching in a small town. At a time when the glass ceiling for women slotted them into secretarial, nursing, or teaching jobs (if they worked outside the home at all), she had a vision of using her capabilities in service that took her far beyond those beginnings. She mentored others with these words: 'Find a star to live for. You may not reach that star, but you'll reach others if you're looking up. Develop one or two real and individual talents, learn to admire beauty, and be enthusiastic and vitally interested in everything.' For her, home economics was not just a second-class field destined to die away as the world modernized, but taught the basic skills of budgeting money, planning time, utilizing available resources well, attending to family relationships, making home and business attractive, and creatively adapting to new situations. She sought to help others improve their relationships, develop skills of competency and 'spend themselves' well.

Moving to Illinois with her husband and two children, Matthews managed a nursery school, then taught high school, and became Textiles Consultant for state mental hospitals. She wrote and directed a film for hospital employees called 'Clothed in Color,' and was proud of her work designing clothing and environments that supported returning health for patients. She also was appointed editor of the national professional association of home economists' publication, the Distaff.

Her own career unfolded rapidly when she moved to the State of Alaska in 1963 to accept a position as Home Economics Supervisor. The Alaska earthquake hit the state hard in March of 1964, and due to staffing inadequacies in her department, Mildred was sent to Washington D.C. one week later to participate in the pivotal meeting of the 49 State Directors of Vocational Education, called to respond to the newly enacted Vocational Education Act of 1963, with each state required to implement new regulations and spend new funding for Manpower programs. Arriving back in Alaska with neither home nor office (both destroyed in the earthquake), Matthews was appointed acting state director of Alaska's vocational education. She followed the office files to Juneau, with no secretary, no fiscal clerk, and an inch think book of newly interpreted guidelines, wondering if she would make it. Her enthusiasm, vitality, and desire to learn stood her in good stead, as she planned and executed training programs in boat safety, fire and police training, licensed practical nurse education, and started the state's first vocational school. In the process, she weathered a number of incidents reflecting the then-common male attitude toward women in positions of authority.

One of the men she had hired at the State had gently courted her, and after their marriage in the late 1960's, the two of them headed 'out' to Corvallis and enrolled in Ph.D. programs in Vocational and Adult Education. He died three years later, but Mildred completed her Ph.D. in 1971, researching ways to foster mobility of Mexican-American Adults in her dissertation. Returning to employment at the University of Alaska, Matthews expanded the role of vocational education to include Tourism, Business, and work with native artists to assure they received residual royalties on their arts and crafts. She also brought into being the new Tanana Valley Community College, and was President of Alaskaland Park, designed to give tourists to Fairbanks an authentic sense of Alaskan history.

Matthews traveled often into 'the bush,' and brought back wonderful stories of learning to carve scrimshaw when snowed in on the Pribilof Islands, or staying up all night cooking blubber with the village women in Nome after a whale had just been caught. She especially valued her relationships with the women of Alaska, and after official retirement, helped a businesswoman friend run a plumbing and heating business, and also served as project manager for the North American Indian Women's Association's research project on 'Special Needs of Indian Handicapped Children and Indian Women's Problems.' Enjoying work with her hands and attuned to the land, Mildred homesteaded two homes in Alaska, doing much of the building herself. She has truly been a pioneer for women!

Dr. Mildred Matthews, Pioneer for Women

Born Rockwall, Texas, August 26, 1919, daughter of Laurence and Irene (Allday) Shuman

B.S., Home Economics Education, West Texas State College, 1940

M.Ed., Vocational Education, Administration and Supervision of Home Ec Education, Colorado State University, 1953

postgraduate health education, Univ of Illinois, 1951-2
University of Kentucky: magazine writing and clothing tailoring
Mississippi Southern University, Bishop Institute of Clothing Construction

Ph.D, Oregon State University, Vocational Education, Adult Education, Anthropology, 1971
Dissertation: Fostering Upward Mobility of Mexican-American Adults Through a Critical Incident

Professional Employment
Teacher of home economics in Texas and Illinois, 1940-1958

Textiles consultant for state hospitals and state schools, department of Public Welfare, State of Illinois, 1955-58

Editor, Distaff magazine, magazine of Kappa Omicron Phi, National Home Economics honorary association,1957- 1961

Author and Director of film, "Clothed in Color," 1956-7

State Supervisor and Director, Alaska Department of Education
Assistant State Director of Vocational Education
Acting State Director, Division of Vocational-Technical Education (1964-9)
development of the Beltz school in Nome
and supervision of educational growth immediately after 63 quake

Full professor, University of Alaska
and Assistant Dean of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions
also: associate professor of extension and coordinator of tourism, business, and adult vocational education in the Division of Statewide Services

Acting Director, Tanana Valley Community College (1974)
prepared memorandum of agreement to begin the community college initiated the first classes, hired the original teachers

UA representative for the 'Alaska Host' program
Initiated and supervised production of public relations film: 'Why Vocational Education?' (for Alaska)

Project Administrator for the North American Indian Women's Association
Author of report 'Special Needs of Indian Handicapped Children and
Indian Women's Problems'

Candidate for Alaska State Senate, 1978

Honors and other activities
Listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who of the West, and Dictionary of International Biographies