The Presidential Commission on the Status of Women established the annual award for outstanding writing on women's issues at NIU in April 1997. In October 2000 the award was named for Dr. Martha Cooper an alumna and distinguished faculty member of NIU‘s Department of Communication. The purpose of the award is to recognize journalistic effort contributing to greater awareness of women's issues on campus. In 2010, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women recognized the growing diversity of media in which women’s issues are presented and expanded award eligibility to include journalism for film, television, video, and the web.
The award is open to all NIU students and alumni who have produced material about women's issues relevant to the NIU community during the time frame of March 1 of the prior year to the present. Eligible entries include news coverage and/or commentary, individual articles or a series of articles, as well as documentary films, news videos, television reports, web articles, and public service campaigns. Entries may have been published in campus publications such as Northern Star and Lifeline, or in other newspapers such as the Daily Chronicle, Midweek, and Chicago Tribune. They may have appeared on WNIJ or off campus Chicago-area media. Entries are judged by the quality of writing, originality of content, and the significance of coverage by a selection committee comprised of NIU faculty and professionals. (See entry criteria) The recipient is presented with a certificate at the PCSW ‘s Outstanding Women Awards Reception in April. In addition, the award winner's name is inscribed on the PCSW Journalism Award plaque which is on permanent display at the Northern Star.