Fannye Cook’s story is also a history lesson of state’s conservation efforts

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Fannye Cook: Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist  – the biography of a Mississippi woman who cared deeply about her state and its natural history – reads like a funny piece of Mississippi fiction: a woman canoeing birds to shore, filing cabinet drawers full of dead specimens and helping Eudora Welty capture bats.

Dorothy Shawhan, Marion Barnwell and Libby Hartfield researched and recorded the life of Fannye Cook: avid bird watcher, author of Freshwater Fishes of Mississippi and the leader in the fight to establish the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission.

Cook, originally from Crystal Springs, Mississippi, began her life with an affinity for nature and spent most of her time exploring the outdoors.

Despite spending her years as a young woman away from home, living in the Panama Canal Zone as a schoolteacher and in Washington, D.C. auditing for the IRS, she ultimately returned home to Mississippi with a drive to pave the way for the future of conservation in the state.

Mississippi Book Festival

Marion Barnwell

After lobbying for the creation of the Game and Fish Commission for years, Cook’s impact lives on today, as the Game and Fish Commission currently functions as the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Her legacy also perseveres in the founding of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, which continues research with her mission in mind and was only possible because of the numerous museums she established throughout her work.

A woman who believed people over the age of 40 should avoid having their pictures taken, Cook was not one to speak often about herself. Yet the tale of Fannye Cook is essential for those who consider themselves to be history enthusiasts, Mississippi lovers and conservationists.

Fannye Cook: Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist is not just the story of one woman in Mississippi who loved measuring fish, but instead the history of Mississippi’s conservation policies and programs — all because one passionate woman was not afraid to “strip down to her teddies” and wade into the river when others were afraid to get wet.

Marion Barnwell will appear on the panel, “Conserving Mississippi History,” at 4:00 p.m. in Capitol Room 201 A. Other panelists include David Crews, Dr. Richard deShazo, Josh Foreman and David Sansing.