Although some scholars identify the original Historical Society of Mississippi as a different organization from the later Mississippi Historical Society (MHS), the MHS claims they are the same. The Historical Society of Mississippi was created on 9 November 1858 in Jackson by B. L. C. Wailes, who served as its first president. At the time the society had twenty-six members and held closed meetings, but by the 1859 meeting membership had dropped to three. Wailes donated the organization’s small historical collection to the state library, ending the Historical Society of Mississippi’s short run.
In 1890 faculty at the University of Mississippi revived the idea of a historical society. The new Mississippi Historical Society held annual open meetings and selected university chancellor Edward Mayes and former governor Robert Lowry as presidents and professor William Rice Sims as secretary-treasurer. The state legislature incorporated the MHS the same year, but the society suspended activities in 1894 after Sims’s interest in history withered. Franklin Lafayette Riley became secretary-treasurer in 1898, and the society flourished under his leadership, laying the groundwork for what became a nationally recognized organization during the twenty-first century. The MHS began to collect historical documents and to produce the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, which increased Mississippians’ awareness of and interest in their history.
In 1902 the state legislature created the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) with Dunbar Rowland as its first director. With the department in charge of collecting and housing Mississippi’s historical documents, the MHS concentrated on publications and recognition awards, releasing Riley’s Opinions of Men of Letters on the Work of the Mississippi Historical Society in 1908. In 1939 the MHS and the MDAH began jointly publishing the quarterly Journal of Mississippi History, first edited by MDAH director William D. McCain. However, the MHS held no meetings between 1912 and 1953, when the interim chair of the MHS Executive Committee, James W. Silver, planned a meeting at which Frank Everett was elected the organization’s president. The MHS subsequently experienced another renaissance and has produced a steady stream of major publications that includes J. F. H. Claiborne’s Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State (reprint, 1964), R. A. McLemore, ed., A History of Mississippi (2 vols., 1973), Edward Akin, Mississippi: An Illustrated History (1987), and the Heritage of Mississippi Series. The MHS also publishes the monthly Mississippi History Newsletter.
The MHS also recognizes exemplary work in Mississippi history, offering a variety of awards, including the McLemore Prize for the best Mississippi history book, the Bettersworth Award for an outstanding history teacher, the Franklin L. Riley Prize for an exemplary dissertation, the Glover Moore Prize for a notable master’s thesis, the Willie D. Halsell Prize for the best Journal of Mississippi History article, the Mississippi History Now award for other noteworthy articles, the Frank E. Everett Jr. Award for efforts to preserve and understand local history, and the Elbert R. Hilliard Oral History Award.
The MHS also gives grants in support of school programs sponsored by the Junior Historical Society, provides educational materials for the public, and sponsors speakers and tours. The society holds annual meetings and maintains a website and an online publication, Mississippi History Now, designed to stimulate public interest in Mississippi history.
- Leslie W. Dunlap, American Historical Societies, 1790–1860 (1944)
- Elbert R. Hilliard, Journal of Mississippi History (Summer 2008)
- Mississippi Historical Society website, www.mississippihistory.org
- “Mississippi Historical Society: Historical Sketch,” Mississippi Department of Archives and History website, www.mdah.state.ms.us/Mississippi History Now website, http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us
- Hans Rasmussen, Journal of Mississippi History (Summer 2008)
- Franklin L. Riley, Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society (1908)