DARDANELLE — It’s been a great year for Mildred Diane Gleason — historian, author and retired educator. She won two prestigious awards for a book she had published in 2017 and had a follow-up book published in July.
Gleason received the J.G. Ragsdale Award from the Arkansas Historical Association in April for her book Dardanelle and the Bottoms: Environment, Agriculture, and Economy in an Arkansas River Community, 1815-1970, published in 2017 by the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville. In June, the Central Arkansas Library System announced Gleason as the recipient of the 2018 Worthen Literary Prize for the book.
“Winning two prizes in one year is pretty good for one book,” said Gleason, known as Diane. “It took me nine years to get it done. I don’t have another nine years to wait for another one, so I have already written a second book … a pictorial book … regarding this same subject and have ideas for several more books.”
Since 2002, the Ragsdale Award has been given for the best book-length historical nonfiction study in Arkansas history. The award honors Ragsdale, a 1919 graduate of the University of Arkansas and a founding member of the Arkansas Historical Association, who also chaired the board of trustees at the University of Arkansas.
Gleason, who lives in her hometown of Dardanelle, is also a graduate of the University of Arkansas; she received her doctorate in American history from there in 1995.
“Diane Gleason won the Ragsdale Award in a field that included some other really outstanding works on American history, which is a tribute to both her scholarship and her skill as a writer,” said Mark Christ of Little Rock, president of the Arkansas Historical Association and community outreach director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
The Worthen Literary Prize is awarded annually by the Central Arkansas Library System for the best work, fiction or nonfiction, by an Arkansas author in the library system’s service area. Gleason lives in a county served by the Gateway card, an agreement among 35 counties in central Arkansas that allows residents of those counties to borrow books from any of the counties’ public libraries.
In 1999, the Worthen family of Little Rock donated the endowment to fund the prize in the memory of Booker Worthen, a member of the Central Arkansas Library System Board of Trustees for 22 years.
Gleason will receive the Worthen award in early October, along with the recipient of the Porter Prize, in a ceremony at the Darragh Center of the CALS Main Library in the River Market District in Little Rock.
“I am very pleased about the awards,” said Gleason, who retired in 2017 after 40 years as an educator.
“I had always wondered what happened to the downtown Dardanelle I knew as a child. It was a vibrant community,” she said when asked why she chose the subject for her award-winning book — Dardanelle and the Bottoms, which is sometimes referred to as the Carden Bottoms.
“There was a reciprocal relationship between the town of Dardanelle and the adjacent agricultural area known as the Bottoms that existed before the Civil War, but it had eroded by the 1970s. The cotton, which was once king, went away, and the Bottoms became depressed … ceased to exist,” she said.
“This book takes a look at all aspects of life in the area — economics, education, race relations, women’s roles, crime, religion, leisure activities and more,” Gleason said. “I used primary materials for most of my research. I interviewed 30 people and read copies of the local newspaper from 1853 into the 1970s, plus additional secondary sources. It took awhile.
“By all accounts, the book is successful. The University of Arkansas Press told me it would be in print for a long time. I hope some college professors may use it as a monograph in Arkansas history or government courses as a case study of what has happened to small towns all across the South.”
Gleason’s most recently published book is A Pictorial History of Dardanelle and the Bottoms, 1880-1980s, co-authored with Joe Grimes, who grew up in the Dardanelle Bottoms, and edited by H. Micheal Tarver, who teaches history and political science at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Xlibris Publishing in Philadelphia published the book in July.
Gleason and Tarver, who maintains an office at Gleason Historical Studies, will host an open house and book signing for A Pictorial History: Dardanelle and the Bottoms, 1880s-1980s from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 6.
“My other books will also be for sale at that time,” she said, adding that her books are available at local businesses such as Millyn’s and Grimes Westside Grocery, as well as online and at area bookstores.
Gleason wrote her first book, Warren G. Harding: Harbinger of Normalcy, with Tarver; Nova Publishers published it in 2012.
She is working as a co-editor of and contributor to the ABC-CLIO publication The Greenwood Encyclopedia of the Daily Life of Women: How They Lived from Ancient Times to the Present, scheduled to be published in 2019. She is working once again with Tarver on this book, as well as Colleen Boyett, who holds a doctorate in history from Florida State University and teaches at the Korea International School in Jeju, South Korea.
Gleason, 70, is a daughter of the late Mildred Boyce Gleason and George Granville Gleason. She has three siblings — Marcia Lawrence of Russellville, principal of Dardanelle High School; Lynne Murphy of Dardanelle, owner of Millyn’s gift shop in Dardanelle; and George G. Gleason II of Little Rock, CEO of Bank OZK.
The author graduated from Dardanelle High School in 1966 and attended Arkansas Tech, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1970. She continued her education and received a Master of Arts degree in political science and her doctorate from the University of Arkansas.
Gleason had a 40-year teaching career, with 20 years as a classroom teacher at Dardanelle High School and 11 years as an associate professor of history at Arkansas Tech. She retired from Arkansas Tech in 2017 and opened Gleason Historical Studies in May 2017 on Front Street in Dardanelle, where she continues her historical research and writing.
“I am staying busy,” she said, smiling. “I can just work on one idea at a time.”