March 9, 2024

The State Historical Society of Missouri is awarding Center for Missouri Studies fellowships to two history scholars in 2024. Jenna Lyons, a visiting assistant professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, has won a fellowship award for her proposed study, “‘Dear Mr. President’: Bertha Bless, the Missouri Press Club, and the National Federation of Press Women.” John W. McKerley, adjunct assistant professor of history and human rights at the University of Iowa, has been awarded a fellowship for his proposal, “Liberalism, Black Politics, and the Origins of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in Missouri.”

In her study, Lyons will examine the career of Bertha Bless, a newspaper editor and resident of Weston, Missouri, during the Great Depression and World War II. As president of the Missouri Women’s Press Club and the National Federation of Press Women, Bless encouraged other women of the press to inspire change in their communities, while bringing her own concerns about the future of America’s small towns to the national stage.

McKerley will explore the origins of Gilded Age labor radicalism in Missouri by examining Black and working-class politics in the state between the collapse of Radical Republicanism in 1870 and the nationwide labor uprising in 1877. He will focus on local sites, such as workplaces, masonic and union halls, courtrooms, and the streets, where workers on both sides of the racial divide struggled over the meaning of “free” labor during a turbulent era in U.S. labor history.

“I’m very grateful to the Center for Missouri Studies for this opportunity,” McKerley said. “I’m excited to get to work researching the important and timely story of how Missouri’s experience of Civil War and Reconstruction shaped what would become the state’s modern labor movement.”

Each fellowship award includes a $5,000 stipend. The fellowship offers an opportunity to write an article for publication in the Missouri Historical Review, a scholarly journal published by the State Historical Society since 1906. Center for Missouri Studies fellows are also invited to make a public presentation of their work. Lyons and McKerley will hold their appointments for the 2024 calendar year.