The Encyclopedia of E. Evelyn Gandy
History of “Women in the Profession Committee of the Mississippi Bar Present the Susie Blue Buchanan Award”
by Elliot Douglas, Eleanor Forsyth, Michael Spataro
As a native Mississippian, Evelyn Gandy was a trailblazer for female lawyers all across the state. Gandy’s achievements in the field of law are remarkable, breaking glass ceilings for future women lawyers in her day. She won many awards, ranging from the start of her political career to past the end of it. The last award she ever won was the Susie Blue Buchanan Award in 2003 when she was 83 years old, for achieving professional excellence as a female lawyer in her field. This reflects back to the beginning of Evelyn Gandy’s life, and to the dreams she had as a child to become a lawyer in the future. She would achieve those dreams after graduating from Hattiesburg High School in 1938, and then Mississippi Southern College in 1940. She went on to study law at the University of Mississippi, where she was the only female in her class. During her time at the University of Mississippi, she was the first woman to be elected president of the law school student body. Gandy also served as the first female editor of the Mississippi Law Journal. Gandy then decided to go into politics and focus her career on helping Mississippians by running for state office.
Evelyn Gandy opened her own law practice immediately after graduating from law school in 1947, although she closed it later that year when elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives as a Democrat. This was the first political office she held. In late 1948, she was elected treasurer of the Mississippi State Bar Association when she was twenty-eight years old. In 1959, she was elected State Treasurer of Mississippi, officially becoming the first woman elected to a statewide constitutional office in Mississippi. She served as State Treasurer for four years, the maximum term limit at the time. In 1963, Gandy ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor for the first time, framing herself as a segregationist and withholding support for President John F. Kennedy. She lost in the second primary to Carroll Gartin, who primarily attacked her gender in campaign ads.
In 1968, Gandy ran again for State Treasurer, and she was elected for another four-year term that lasted from 1968-1972. Later, in 1972, Evelyn Gandy ran for the office of Insurance Commissioner, choosing to appeal more openly to women voters in her campaign, and won. She immediately got to work and started making significant insurance reforms, as she promised in her campaign. Some of the changes she instituted were restructuring the insurance department, releasing new fire safety rules for mobile home construction, initiating an investigation into false advertising, and pushing for enhanced advertising regulations. At the same time, she declared her support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment- an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would have guaranteed equal rights no matter the sex of a person. Knowing her term as Insurance Commissioner was nearly at an end, she declared herself a candidate for Lieutenant Governor for a second time in 1975. With a platform that focused on providing job opportunities, Gandy won the Democratic runoff, and then the general election with 70% of the vote, becoming the first woman not only to serve as Lieutenant Governor in Mississippi but in the entirety of the Southern United States.
As the twenty-sixth Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi, Gandy presided over the Mississippi State Senate, which was comprised of 52 male-only members during her term. She was responsible for appointing the body’s committees, and “The Gandy Boys” were a group of senators that were known to side with Gandy in order for her to pass legislation she favored. Ambitiously, Gandy decided to run for the governor's office in the 1979 and 1983 elections, but she lost both times. During Gandy’s 1983 campaign, her opposition distributed leaflets and reprints of her from a 1963 ad showing her connection to segregationist positions and beliefs, which didn’t sit well with the voters, although Gandy claimed her previous statements did not reflect her current views. She later tried to connect with African-American voters by pointing out how she, too, had faced discrimination only because of her sex. That election was close, with Gandy getting 47.7% of the final vote and her opponent, William Allain, gaining 52.3%.
After Evelyn Gandy lost the 1983 governor election, she made the decision not to run again and instead go back to practicing law. In 1984, she joined a private practice with Ingram, Smith, and Stroud until 1994 in, when she would join the Ingram Associates located in Hattiesburg. Even though she was not running for any political office, she still inspired women to pursue politics and law. Jennifer Ingram Johnson was one of the many women who were inspired by Evelyn Gandy. When Johnson was old enough to vote, she went to Evelyn Gandy’s office to share the good news, and Evelyn Gandy stopped what she was doing to congratulate not just a new voter but a woman voter. Johnson would later become the fifth president-elect of the Mississippi Bar Association and would credit Evelyn Gandy as her mentor. Evelyn Gandy continued to help further women’s advancement in the field of law after her political career ended. Gandy was an active member of the Mississippi Bar Association after her return to private practice in Hattiesburg. She was given several awards from the Mississippi Bar Association later in her life, one of which was the Susie Blue Buchanan Award in the early 2000s.
In 2003, Evelyn Gandy would be awarded with the Susie Blue Buchanan Award by the Mississippi Bar Association, which recognizes women lawyers who helped pave the path for future women lawyers. The Susie Buchanan Award was created after Susie Buchanan, who was the first female lawyer in the state of Mississippi. She never attended law school and instead gained her education in law through her father, who practiced in Brandon, Mississippi. Her father would unfortunately die, but she continued being educated by her father's law partner. Susie Buchanan, in 1916, would approach the Mississippi Supreme Court and would become the first Mississippi female to be allowed to practice law in Mississippi. Later in 1918, she would then become the first woman to join the Mississippi Bar Association. The Susie Blue Buchanan Award highlights females practicing law who not only are excellent at their profession, but also helped pave the way for female lawyers. The award perfectly represents what Evelyn Gandy accomplished during her life, including becoming the first woman in Mississippi to graduate from law school and the first woman to be elected as Lieutenant Governor while also holding several Mississippi State offices. Some other notable winners of the Susie Blue Buchanan Award can be found at the Mississippi Bar Association.
Evelyn Gandy’s intense passion for her career did not leave her with much time to pursue personal relationships which saw her never marry or have kids. She was very close to her sister, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi throughout the remainder of her life. In 2002, Mississippi would pass Senate Bills 2371 and 2372, as well as House Bill 89, which would see a segment of Highway 42 be named Evelyn Gandy Parkway. The Mississippi Senate did this to honor Evelyn Gandy and her efforts in promoting the advancement of women in Mississippi. Unfortunately, Evelyn Gandy would die in 2007 before the construction was finished. She died at the age of 87 with the cause of death being progressive supranuclear palsy which causes nerve damage in parts of the brain that control motor function and thinking. After her death, former Mississippi Governor William Winter gave her eulogy in which he praised Evelyn Gandy’s role in politics. William Winters acknowledged that men in the political sphere had an advantage over women based on sex. He then said, “I would hope that advantage would not exist today, and if it does not, it is because Evelyn Gandy has blazed the trail”. This statement is significant because it was one of Evelyn Gandy’s opponents who defeated her, and acknowledged how Evelyn Gandy helped break the glass ceiling in Mississippi. A quote from Evelyn Gandy that best represents her life and what she was trying to achieve is “We’re not trying to be better than man; we’re just trying to join them”.
Throughout her political career, Evelyn Gandy broke several glass ceilings for women. She is remembered for passionately pushing forward and advocating for women’s presence in political environments. Evelyn Gandy inspired many women all across the South to pursue their dreams, no matter their gender. She worked hard to establish a place for women in state and local politics, while also serving the people of Mississippi. While she did not have a spotless moral record, it cannot be denied that she forced her way into a completely male-dominated domain of work, leaving behind a path for hundreds of women to follow in her footsteps.
Leathers, Laura Lee. 2023. “Remembering Evelyn Gandy: A Trailblazer in Leadership.” Magnolia Tribune. August 7, 2023. https://magnoliatribune.com/2023/08/07/remembering-evelyn-gandy-a-trailblazer-in-leadership/.
Martha Swain. 2017. “Gandy, Evelyn.” Mississippi Encyclopedia. July 11, 2017. https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/evelyn-gandy/.
Pittman, Ashton. 2019. “Women’s Group Honors Evelyn Gandy: ‘a Giant in Mississippi Politics.’” Www.jacksonfreepress.com. 2019. https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2019/jun/14/womens-group-honors-evelyn-gandy-giant-mississippi/.
Price Prather Luncheon – Susie Blue Buchanan Award, 2003, Box: 16, Folder: 9. Edythe Evelyn Gandy Collection, M367. Historical Manuscripts and Photographs.