Born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, in 1889, Francis Addine “Fannye” Cook led a remarkable life of wildlife conservation and public service. Known to her friends and colleagues as “Miss Fannye,” she found her calling in the difficult economic times and restrictive social atmosphere of 1920s Mississippi. Cook overcame a perennial shortage of state money and a general resistance to female leadership to help form a statewide game and fish conservation commission, supervise a plant and animal survey of the state, and establish a modern museum of natural science.
After earning her undergraduate degree at the Mississippi University for Women, Cook taught history and English in Wyoming and Panama. She later did graduate work in ornithology at the University of Colorado and at George Washington University and spent some time at the Smithsonian. By 1926 she had returned to Mississippi and begun working to overhaul what she recognized as an ineffective, county-based system of game and fish conservation and law enforcement.
Cook formed the Mississippi Association for the Conservation of Wildlife and used it to lobby politicians, leading citizens, and the general public on the need to reform game laws. Under the association’s banner, Cook traveled throughout the state, speaking at garden clubs, civic meetings, and local fairs. She used her personal collections of mammals, birds, and aquatic life to create exhibits that illustrated the diversity of life in the state’s various habitats and the need for their protection. In 1932 the legislature finally created the Game and Fish Commission, leading to the development of an organized system of wildlife conservation including state refuges, restocking programs, licensing procedures, and effective law enforcement.
Joining the commission as a research assistant, Cook wrote bulletins and pamphlets and created more exhibits, particularly for the state fair. Though she was eminently qualified for the position of director of the commission, the times dictated that Cook stay with the educational work deemed suitable for women. In 1935 the Works Progress Administration funded a plant and animal survey sponsored by the Game and Fish Commission. Cook headed the survey, supervising the dozens of workers who collected and preserved thousands of specimens from around the state for a network of local museums, including the state museum, which opened in Jackson in 1939. The survey lasted until 1941, and its collections formed the foundation of the state museum’s scientific inventory. As museum director, Cook found a permanent place to pursue her scientific scholarship and educational outreach. She produced reports on the state’s mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians, basing her work in part on the survey collections. Researchers still consult her preserved collections and her writings on such topics as snakes and salamanders and fur resources.
Cook retired in 1958. After she died in 1964, the legislature officially designated the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science as the Fannye A. Cook Memorial.
- Fannye A. Cook, Freshwater Fishes in Mississippi (1959)
- Fannye A. Cook, Fur Resources of Mississippi (1945)
- B. E. Gandy, The Mississippi Kite (1 May 1965)
- Mississippi Museum of Natural Science website, http://museum.mdwfp.com
- Dorothy Shawhan, edited and with contributions by Marion Barnwell and Libby Hartfield, Fannye Cook: Mississippi’s Pioneering Conservationist (2017)