- National Institutes of Mental Health fellowship in 1964-65
- University of Kansas Higher Education Service Award winner in 1978
- Outstanding Achievement in Education Award recipient by the Black Women Achievers Against the Odds Conference in 1984
Mary Elizabeth Townsend was born December 30, 1919 in Lawrence, Kansas to Charles Jetz and Florence Murray Fishback. After graduating from Liberty Memorial High School in 1939, she married Ross Townsend on February 10, 1943. Mrs. Townsend came to work at the University of Kansas as a secretary, but her colleagues saw a great potential in her and urged her to pursue a degree. She decided to enroll and attend the University of Kansas where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1963 and a master’s degree in 1965, both in social work. Townsend attended and worked at the University of Kansas in the 1960s during a time ripe with racial tension, but she did not let the color of her skin, nor her gender, keep her from aspiring to reach her dreams.
In 1965, Townsend joined the University of Kansas faculty as an instructor; she earned tenure in 1971. From 1968-1974, Townsend was chief social worker in the school's psychological clinic, and from 1974-1982 she was director of the KU Office of Minority Affairs. Her colleagues credit her with the development of the Office of Minority Affairs, and applaud her efforts to help students while she served as the director of that office. Even after retiring in 1987, Townsend continued to operate a private practice, which she started in 1975, until 1988.
In 2005 Townsend released a book entitled “Telling it Like it is: The Truth About All the Women in the Bible.” When asked by the Lawrence Journal World why she had spent a decade on this work she responded, “I wanted to get God's word out with the focus being on women, no longer in an ancillary role to the men in the Bible. The Bible was written by men, for men, and that's fine. I love the Bible. But I could see that the women, some of their voices were silent, or they got maybe 10 lines and that was all.” Always an animated presence, Townsend went on to say she would gladly give the books away for free just to get the word out, “But in the Bible it says you should be paid for your labor, so then I decided I'd go ahead and charge.”
Townsend earned numerous honors in her field, including a National Institutes of Mental Health fellowship in 1964-65, the University of Kansas Higher Education Service Award in 1978, and the Outstanding Achievement in Education Award by the Black Women Achievers Against the Odds Conference in 1984. She was also active in numerous organizations, including the Lawrence-Douglas County Board of Health, the Douglas County Association for Mental Health, the NAACP and the Endacott Society.
- Telling It Like It Is: The Truth about All the Women of the Bible