Marjorie Smith Blewett · 1999

This profile of Marjorie Smith Blewett is reprinted, with permission, from a 1998 issue of Newswire, a publication for alumni of the Indiana University School of Journalism.

By Ruth Padget Albright

Turning points have always fascinated Marjorie Smith Blewett, BA ’48. Some she could clearly identify as major turning points right from the beginning

— like the time in 1968-69 when the journalism faculty voted to take the Indiana Daily Student out of the journalism curriculum.

“This was an extremely tense time,” Blewett says.

“You could tell how important the Daily Student was because everybody wanted to get control of it. When I walked out of that meeting room at the Union building, I thought the roof might fall in.” (It didn’t, she’s delighted to report, an the Daily Student is just fine.)

Other turning points in her life have been more subtle, realized only after some time passed. Such a turning point began when her father accepted a government job in Washington, D.C., during World War II. Blewett, who had already become “infected by journalism” in her hometown of Bloomington, Ind., jumped into journalism in Washington, becoming editor of her school paper and writing for the teen page of the old Washington Star. She also got involved in the war effort. It was a turning point that broadened her vision of the world – a vision she has never lost.

When it was time for college, though, Blewett headed right back to Bloomington and Indiana University. Again, she embraced journalism enthusiastically, worked on the Daily Student and became its editor during her senior year.

She’s been thinking a lot about that senior year recently. The year was 1948, which makes this June [1998] the 50th anniversary of her graduation. She’s busy working on the reunion activities, but frequently she takes a moment to reflect. Her conclusion is always the same – it just couldn’t have been 50 years.

One thing that makes Blewett so special to lots of journalism graduates in the last 50 years is that she has stayed involved with IU journalism. There have been just four heads of the journalism program since it began in 1911 – Joseph Piercy, John Stempel, Richard Gray and Trevor Brown – and she has worked for the last three. She is often thought of as the “institutional memory,” someone who can look back, identify the turning points and put the past 50 years of IU journalism into perspective.

After graduation she worked for newspapers in Bloomington and in Lafayette, married, and had two children. She assumed that the arrival of her first child was a big turning point in her life. “I took for granted I would quit working and have children and stay home. But I found out I wasn’t so good at stay-at-home stuff,” Blewett says. In short order she found herself filling part-time jobs around town.

In 1965, she actually went back to work full time as a lecturer at what was then the Department of Journalism. Although she enjoyed working with the students, she found the job too repetitive and was looking for new opportunities when Stempel was about to retire.

“Stempel suggested to [incoming journalism chairman Richard] Gray that he put me into placement,” Blewett says. “This was a good idea because Gray had lots of national and international contacts, but he didn’t have the same kind of Indiana journalism contacts that Stempel did.

Stempel had really run the placement service out of his back pocket because he knew everybody in the state.”

It wasn’t long before Blewett found that she, too, was often running placement out of her back pocket. She kept so involved with IU journalism graduates that she knew who was where and who might need a reporter or a photographer.

As placement director, she came to appreciate just how important internships are for journalism majors. Future employers want to know that job applicants have had experience in their field.

But Blewett also learned that there were problems with internships. Some paid very little – or even nothing. She also found that many students just aren’t in a position to take an unpaid internship.
As her 50th reunion approached, Blewett began thinking about helping future students with their internships – just as she had for so many years as placement director. This spring [1998], the first Marjorie Smith Blewett Internship was announced.

The funds are to be used by a student who has accepted an unpaid internship for this summer.
Blewett has provided these funds through a Charitable Remainder Unitrust. The principal has been turned over to the IU Foundation, and Blewett will receive the interest from that principal for the rest of her life. Her intention is to fund the internship each year, but if she should need some extra money, she can keep the interest and return to funding the internship when she is able to. She can add to the principal at any time, as can anyone else, to increase the size of the internship. When she dies, of course, the internship will be presented each year in her name.

As she prepares for the 50th reunion, she looks not just at her life 50 years ago but also at her life today in Bloomington. When she retired, she packed up box after box of journalism history and took them home with her, determined she would write a history of the IU School of Journalism. She quickly found that retirement offers too many other opportunities – like learning Spanish, travel and reading all of Jane Austen’s novels.

And then there are the special friends. “Having a group of friends who were in journalism school in 1948-51 has meant a whole lot to me. We weren’t all friends back then, but we have some of the same memories. Many of these people have spent their lives working in other places and have come back to Bloomington to retire,” she says.

Blewett is a founder of the Ernie Pyle Society, a group of retired journalism alumni who meet for lunch on the second Tuesday of each month. The group has been talking about publishing a newsletter, but the talk is all in fun. When asked if she is the editor, Blewett says, “Editor? I don’t think we’ve gotten round to appointing an editor. We need a deadline!”

Even though she enjoys her retirement, she keeps in close touch with the School of Journalism. Being “infected by journalism” at an early age has proven to be one of the biggest turning points in her life.


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