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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Remembering Mrs. Griggs

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Mrs. Griggs was a beloved figure in local journalism for decades before her retirement from the Milwaukee Journal in 1985. She was everyone’s beloved great aunt, an advice columnist whose simple gravitas somehow continued to make good sense even as times changed—and changed again.

Always wearing a prim hat to the newsroom (and keeping her phone in a lower desk drawer), Ione Quinby Griggs seemed a charming anachronism by the end, yet she remained engaged with the world. As Genevieve G. McBride and Stephen R. Byers recount in Dear Mrs. Griggs: Women Readers Pour Out their Hearts from the Heartland (Marquette University Press), Griggs was one of the Journal’s first writers to sign up for computer training.

McBride and Byers identify Griggs as part of the first generation of “girl reporters,” a familiar figure from Hollywood movies of the 1930s. She started in the newsrooms of Chicago, on the crime beat, before moving to Milwaukee in 1934 and becoming the Journal’s advice columnist. By that time her husband had died, but Ione Quinby always remained Mrs. Griggs.

Her advice caught on immediately. Long before the Internet, the column was a “community forum with her readers,” drawing stacks of mail, most of it from women. McBride and Byers explore the role advice columns such as Mrs. Griggs’ played in popular culture as a “moral barometer”—a means of gauging one’s own behavior and attitudes. Griggs allowed her readers to set the agenda through the years by the questions they asked. She thoughtfully provided answers. Dear Mrs. Griggs shows that Ione Quinby wasn’t merely a figure for local nostalgia but an embodiment of larger trends for women and society.