Obituary: Professor Marjorie Ferguson

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The Independent Culture
MARJORIE FERGUSON used the insights gained through a career in journalism in the Fifties and Sixties to inform first her studies in sociology at the London School of Economics and later her teaching as Professor of Journalism at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.

She was born Marjorie McDonald in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1929. She was immensely proud of her lumberjack father and her Scottish ancestry, notably her McDonald grandmother who, some 100 years ago, with her young family crossed the Atlantic and the breadth of North America to join her husband and an uncertain future.

From a sheltered and close family life and a brief spell at the University of British Columbia, Marjorie travelled alone across Canada aged 19 and sailed to England, arriving in the gloomy post-war days to marry her Canadian fiance, Donald Ferguson, already in London working as a journalist. She was clutching a parchment document sealed by the Archbishop of Canterbury giving her dispensation to marry - at that time she was considered an under-age child.

In the late 1950s, she entered the world of women's magazines, eventually joining the staff of Odhams' (later IPC) mass-circulation weekly magazine Woman as a junior member of the fashion department. Her creative talent, lively imagination and diligence were soon recognised and she eventually became Associate Editor of the magazine.

In 1967 she was singled out to edit a new publication, Intro. This was to be an innovative magazine to tap the rising spending power and reflect the burgeoning youth culture of the late 1960s. But with conflicting messages from the management (an interview with the Beatles and the Maharishi, with implications of pot smoking, was all right; Marjorie Proops sensibly and sensitively on full penetration was pulped), and a "royal" visit to the new horse in his stable by Cecil King, then chairman of IPC, who declared that he didn't really much care what the magazine did as long as the staff "looked after his bawbees", Intro was doomed to early failure, and was not a happy experience.

Marjorie Ferguson lingered on at IPC while it was decided what to do with her talent, and during this depressing period she characteristically knuckled down and produced some excellent investigative projects for IPC. She also took the enterprising decision to read for a sociology degree at the London School of Economics.

It was a difficult time, for her marriage was breaking up, but she persevered through a first degree, and then, in 1979, obtained a doctorate, basing her thesis (published in 1983 as Forever Feminine: women's magazines and the cult of femininity) on her two very different experiences - 10 years in women's magazine journalism and her undergraduate and postgraduate work at LSE, where from 1975 she taught Education Policy and Administration in the Social Policy Department. Seen at first as a curiosity in the world of academia, she showed that practical experience in what was considered a frivolous and ephemeral field could indeed open up an untapped source for serious study.

In 1988 she took another dramatic step, moving to Washington to join the Maryland University College of Journalism, where she first lectured and then was appointed to a Chair. Influential in the field of global communications, she was also a conscientious teacher with an astute sense of her students' strengths and an ability to draw them out. But she never felt entirely at home in the United States and was planning to return to England on her retirement.

Striking-looking, generous in spirit and in kind, enthusiastic, encouraging, always welcoming and hospitable, whatever else was on her agenda, she was an immensely loving and loved friend in her wide and international circle of friends.

Marjorie Ruth McDonald, journalist and sociologist: born Victoria, British Columbia 7 October 1929; married 1948 Donald Ferguson (two daughters; marriage dissolved); died San Francisco 4 October 1999.