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Martha Swain is a graduate of Starkville High and Mississippi State College. She holds the M.A. and Ph.D. in History from Vanderbilt University. She was on the faculty of Texas Woman's University for 21 years and after returning to Starkville in 1995 taught at Mississippi State for a period of time. During her years as a high school teacher in Florida, she was on the staff of History Institutes at Stetson University for six summers and at Rutgers University for one summer.
She is the author of two books on the New Deal, Pat Harrison: The New Deal; Years (1978) and Ellen Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women (1995) and co-author of Lucy Somerville Howorth: New Deal Lawyer, Politician and Feminist from the South (2003). She is a co-editor of two volumes of essays, Mississippi Women: Their Histories, Their Lives (2003, 2009) and has written a number of book chapters and journal articles on New Deal subjects and southern women's history. She is a past president of the Southern Association for Women Historians. She is the recipient of a distinguished senior faculty award at Texas Woman’s University, the 1994 Eudora Welty book prize at Mississippi University for Women, the 2002 Dunbar Rowland Award from the Mississippi Historical Society for lifetime contributions to Mississippi History, and the 2004 Mississippi Humanities Council's Chair's Award for contributions to public humanities programs. She was president of the Mississippi Historical Society in 2005-06 and is a long-time member of the review board of the Journal of Mississippi History, and a former member of the board of review of the Journal of Southern History.