Ivins, Mary Tyler [Molly] (1944–2007)

By: Neil Sapper

Type: Biography

Published: November 15, 2007

Updated: January 18, 2020

Mary Tyler Ivins, better known as Molly Ivins, newspaper columnist, political commentator, and bestselling author, daughter of James E. and Margaret (Milne) Ivins, was born in Monterey, California, on August 30, 1944. She graduated from St. John's School in Houston in 1962 and attended Smith College where she received a B.A. in history in 1966. Ivins received an M.A. from Columbia University's School of Journalism in 1967. She also studied in Paris for a year at the Institute of Political Sciences. Ivins worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle (1967) and the Minneapolis Tribune (1967–1970). In 1970 she returned to Texas and became co-editor (with Kaye Northcott) of the Texas Observer (1970–1976). From 1976 to 1980 Ivins worked for the New York Times, first as a staff writer in the New York office (1976–1977) and then as head of the Times Rocky Mountain Bureau in Denver (1977–1980). Her colorful and edgy writing style however eventually angered her executive editor, who sent Ivins back to the New York City offices to cover routine municipal matters. In 1982 Ivins returned to Texas and was offered a position with the Dallas Times Herald, where she was given complete freedom to write in her own style. She worked as a columnist for that newspaper until its demise in 1991 and subsequently wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (1992–2001). Ivins made an unsuccessful foray into television punditry in 1996. The CBS news program, "60 Minutes," employed her as a commentator in a reprise of an earlier "Point-Counterpoint" segment on "60 Minutes." Halfway into her contracted thirteen weeks, Ivins's participation on "60 Minutes" ended. In 2001 Ivins became an independent columnist and was distributed by the Creators Syndicate. At the end of her life in 2007, her column appeared in nearly 400 newspapers nationwide. She also wrote pieces for a number of national magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and The Nation.

Ivins wrote her columns and books from a liberal perspective leavened with Texasbe homilies and colorful phrases. The title of her book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? (Random House, 1991), became a catchphrase that appeared in numerous newspaper accounts about Ivins. The book title was taken from a billboard message purchased by Ivins's paper. In 1991 she wrote in a column about Republican Texas Congressman James M. Collins: "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day." The newspaper responded to the firestorm of protest by posting billboards all over Dallas with the "Molly Ivins Can't Say That…" catchphrase. Ivins's next book was entitled Nothin' But Good Times Ahead (Random House, 1993). Several years later, she wrote You Got To Dance With Them What Brung You: Politics in the Clinton Years (Random House, 1998). In 2000 Ivins collaborated with Lou Dubose on Shrub:The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House, 2000); Ivins and Dubose collaborated a second time with Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (Random House, 2003). In between, Ivins wrote the foreword for Vincent Bugliosi in his The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2001). Her book Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known (Random House) was published in 2004.

Molly Ivins received the following honors during her career: the William Allen White Award from the University of Kansas (2001); the Smith Medal from Smith College (2001); election to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001); the Ivan Allen, Jr. Prize for Progress and Service (2003); the Pringle Prize for Washington Journalism from Columbia University (2003); the Eugene V. Debs Award in the field of journalism (2003); the David Brower Award for journalism from the Sierra Club (2004); the David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University (2006); and was the Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecturer, the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism (2006). True to form, Ivins said that she was particularly proud of two distinct honors: having the Minneapolis police force's mascot pig named after her during her stint with the Minneapolis daily, and being banned from the Texas A&M University campus. In 1999 Ivins was diagnosed with late stage breast cancer. The cancer recurred in 2003 and again in 2005. In January 2006 she announced that she was undergoing chemotherapy. In December 2006 she took leave from her column to undergo additional treatment. She wrote two columns in January 2007 but returned to the hospital for further treatment. Ivins died in her Austin home in hospice care on January 31, 2007, at age sixty-two. In October 2007 Ivins's final book, Bill of Wrongs! The Executive Branch's Assault on America's Fundamental Rights, coauthored with Lou Dubose, was published.

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Molly Ivins Papers 1936, 1950-, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. New York Times, February 1, 2007. The Texas Observer, February 9, 2007. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Journalism
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  • Literature
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  • Journals and Publications
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Historians
  • Nonfiction
  • Women
  • Authors and Writers
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Neil Sapper, “Ivins, Mary Tyler [Molly],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ivins-mary-tyler-molly.

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November 15, 2007
January 18, 2020

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