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100-year-old Arkansas activist dies; Dorothy Davis Stuck remembered as journalism, desegregation pioneer

by Tess Vrbin | July 4, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.

Dorothy Davis Stuck, a pioneering Arkansan newspaper publisher, businesswoman and activist, died Thursday in Little Rock at the age of 100.

Her career as an advocate for journalism, the desegregation of schools and the professional advancement of women earned her widespread admiration and honors throughout Arkansas.

"Dorothy suffered a fall in early June, and while she fought the good fight, she was unable to recover," her longtime friend and business partner Nan Snow wrote to Arkansas Press Women, of which Stuck was a co-founder. "At her request, there will be no memorial or burial service. But I know how much she valued the love and friendship you always extended to her. She lived a 100-year beautiful life."

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Stuck and Snow were friends for 48 years. Snow said she studied Stuck's work as a journalism student at the University of Arkansas. She also read many of Stuck's columns and editorials in the Sunday edition of what was then the Arkansas Gazette.

"I thought someday I'd like to meet her because she was strong and courageous, and it was difficult for women to have that role in the 1950s," Snow said.

Wendy Plotkin, a historian with Arkansas Press Women, started researching Stuck's life and achievements earlier this year with plans to write a biography on Stuck.

"What I found striking was someone from the South would go into a job enforcing desegregation," Plotkin said. "She was a moderate on race relations, but for a woman or anyone from the South to take that position, it takes a lot of courage."

LIFE AND CAREER

Dorothy Willard Davis was born on Feb. 5, 1921, in Gravette and grew up in Muskogee, Okla. She graduated in 1943 from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville with a history degree and moved to Marked Tree in Poinsett County, where she taught history for three years.

In 1946, she married Howard Stuck Jr., and they bought and published three newspapers in Northeast Arkansas: the Marked Tree Tribune, the Lepanto News Record and the Trumann Democrat. She became the editor of the Marked Tree Tribune in 1950 when Howard fell ill with polio.

The Tribune won 75 state and national awards during Stuck's 20-year tenure as editor, according to a 1989 article in the Arkansas Democrat. Additionally, from 1960-67, she was editor of The Arrow, the national quarterly magazine for Pi Beta Phi sorority, which she joined as a college student.

Snow noted that Stuck had no professional background in journalism before her husband became ill, and she had to take care of him and their young son in addition to her editorial duties.

"To me, the fact that she could do that is impressive," Snow said. "She had this writing talent that perhaps never would have come to the fore if not for that event in her life."

Stuck once published an editorial in favor of desegregating schools, and the Marked Tree Tribune lost some advertisers as a result.

However, Plotkin said, Stuck's stance on desegregation caught the attention of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, a staunch integration advocate, and of Leon Panetta, then-director of the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Department of Health and Human Services. Plotkin said Rockefeller was also familiar with Stuck from the 1969 Arkansas Constitutional Convention, where she was the only woman to chair a major committee, the Suffrage and Election Committee.

In 1970, Rockefeller appointed Stuck the regional director of the Office of Civil Rights in Dallas. Throughout nine years in the position, Stuck oversaw the desegregation of schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Stuck temporarily filled a vacant deputy director position at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, D.C., in 1975, Plotkin said, where she helped finalize the regulations created by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

Stuck was the first woman to chair the Dallas-Fort Worth Federal Executive Board, a group of local heads of federal agencies. After she returned to Arkansas in 1979, she spent 30 years on the board of Southern Bancorp, an Arkadelphia financial services company that fosters community development, such as affordable housing, in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta.

"A SOUNDING BOARD"

Stuck met Snow in 1973 at a Federal Women's Program conference in Aspen, Colo. Snow was the program coordinator for the same five-state region Stuck oversaw at the Office of Civil Rights.

The two struck up an "instant friendship" thanks to their common interests and their shared journalism backgrounds, Snow said. In 1981, the same year Stuck's husband died, the two women started a management and publications consulting firm, Stuck & Snow Resultants.

"A resultant is a consultant who gets results," Stuck told the Arkansas Democrat in 1989. "We spend one half the time resulting and one half the time getting good results."

Snow said a primary goal of their firm was to help women enter and advance in their chosen career fields.

Stuck and Snow co-wrote a biography of Roberta Fulbright, the mother of U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, the founder of Arkansas Press Women and the publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times, which would eventually become the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Snow said the idea for the biography came during a women's conference.

"We went out into the hall and said, 'This is wonderful, but women are just talking to other women, and we need to get the word out to a wider audience about what women have done in Arkansas,'" Snow said.

They spent five years researching and writing "Roberta: A Most Remarkable Fulbright," which was published in 1997. The book made the bestseller list in Arkansas and received an award of merit from the American Association of State and Local History.

"It was a help, we hope, for publicizing what women in Arkansas are capable of doing," Snow said.

Stuck was a role model for future generations of women journalists in Arkansas, including Melinda Gassaway, who retired as executive editor of the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record in 2013. Gassaway said she used to regularly send Stuck her columns for feedback before publishing them.

Stuck "was so generous" and "would always give you her opinion and suggestions in a professional and courteous way," Gassaway said.

"I greatly admired her principles and her outlook on news, and we were in sync on so many of those things," Gassaway said. "I felt very fortunate to be using her as a sounding board."

Stuck received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Arkansas in 2008 and was inducted into the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame in 2017. She is also featured in the University of Arkansas' Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History.

"It can be easily said that her courage in a time of democratic upheaval has earned her well-deserved admiration and respect," her page on the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame website states.

Snow said if she could describe Stuck in one word, it would be strong.

"That's the word I used back when I admired her [in college] because she had the nerve to speak up for civil rights, especially as a woman," Snow said. "After 48 years of friendship, that's still the word I'd use for her -- strong as well as caring, because you have to be that, too, to go out on a limb so many times in her life. That's what I take away from her friendship after all these years."

Print Headline: 100-year-old Arkansas activist dies

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