Mildred Seydell – Encyclopedia of New Georgia
Mildred Seydell broke the gender barrier and was one of the first women to work as a journalist in Georgia. She was a columnist and author of nationally syndicated books, a strong advocate for women’s rights, and the founder of her own publishing house and quarterly newspaper.
Mildred Rutherford Woolley was born in Atlanta on March 21, 1889, to Bessie Rutherford and Little Berry Vasser Woolley, a lawyer and businessman, and was named after her great aunt, Mildred Lewis Rutherford. She was educated at the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. She married Paul Seydel, a Belgian scientist, in 1910. They had two sons, Paul and John. Her husband died in 1944 and she married her brother, Max, in 1947. They resided in Belgium for twenty years before returning to Atlanta in 1967.
Seydell, who added an extra “l” to her surname and kept it as her pen name, began writing as a community correspondent in 1921 for the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. In 1924, she “invaded” Georgia’s male-dominated newspaper world when she landed a job writing for the Society’s page of the Atlanta Georgianwhich is part of William Randolph Hearst’s extensive newspaper chain.
Faced with obstacles that discouraged notoriety in the press, women journalists often orchestrated elaborate stunts to overcome these obstacles. Seydell used a palm-reading ruse to get noticed and attract a dedicated readership, claiming to divulge the “characters” of local celebrities by examining their hands. His subjects included US Vice President Charles G. Dawes, filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, and circus gorilla John Daniel II.
In 1925, Seydell, who had never covered a major news story, attended the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, as Georgian‘s corresponding and performed his “stunt” of palm reading. Her stories about the trial were broadcast nationally, and although the assignment was more of a gimmick than legitimate reporting, she became a prominent Georgian journalist.
Seydell made four annual trips abroad thereafter. During a trip in 1926, she interviewed Benito Mussolini, the Italian prime minister, for the Hearst newspapers. Her overseas reporting led to another series of syndicated articles, “Talks with Celebrities,” in which she interviewed many famous Hollywood stars of the day. His first advice column “What would you do?” was published from 1926 to 1931. When she renamed the column “All in a Day” and changed from a format of advice to one of anecdotes and personal opinions, she became a prominent advocate women.
During the 1930s, Seydell also began what was to be a lifelong association with the National Woman’s Party and its post-suffrage struggle for equal rights, serving as president of Atlanta in 1931, president of Georgia in 1932 and deputy editor of Equal rights magazine, a publication of the National Woman’s Party, in 1935.
In the 1930s Seydell published two books, secret fathers (1930) and Owl ! (1939). The novel secret fathers is the story of a young woman’s decision to bear a child out of wedlock. Owl ! is a collection of positive “daily spiritual vitamins” first published in its columns in the Georgian. Both books helped bolster Seydell’s national reputation and enabled him to survive Hearst’s 1939 sale of the Georgian to (and its subsequent closure by) James M. Cox, founder of the media empire that became Cox Enterprises. (Cox also bought the Atlanta Journal same time.) In 1940, Seydell founded the Seydell Syndicate and The think tank newsletter, which featured current affairs, book reviews and poetry, until 1947. The following year, after moving to Belgium with her second husband, she founded the Mildred Seydell Publishing Company and the Seydell Quarterly, review of essays and poetry. She continued to write and publish in the journal for nearly twenty years, exploiting her position as a popular columnist to communicate what she saw as essential messages for the cause of women.
Seydell died on February 20, 1988 in Roswell, at the age of ninety-eight. His papers are held in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University in Atlanta.