Betty Bumpers, known for her efforts to promote childhood immunization and world peace, died Friday at her home in Little Rock of complications from dementia and a broken hip, said her son Brent Bumpers.
She was 93.
Bumpers was the wife of Dale Bumpers, who was Arkansas' governor for four years and a U.S. senator for 24 years. He died on New Year's Day 2016 at the age of 90.
Brent Bumpers said his mother started having hip trouble about six weeks ago.
"She could hardly walk because of pain, so we took her to the doctor and she had a hairline fracture," he said. "You break a hip with advanced dementia and you aren't going to recover from that. It's just a matter of weeks at that point."
Betty Bumpers' impact went far beyond Arkansas.
"For more than 40 years, Hillary and I treasured our friendship with Betty Bumpers," said former President Bill Clinton. "From her kitchen table in Charleston to the halls of power in D.C., she was always the same: dignified and down-to-earth, intelligent and kind, good-hearted and tough minded.
"She spent a lifetime working to give all our children a healthier, safer future."
Betty Lou Flanagan was born at the family home in Grand Prairie in Franklin County on Jan. 11, 1925, to Ola Callan Flanagan and Herman Edward Flanagan, better known as "Babe."
"I weighed eleven pounds on the cotton scales," Betty Bumpers said in a 2010 interview for the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in Fayetteville.
She was referring to cotton scales that hung from a big sycamore tree on the family farm at Grand Prairie, about 5 miles north of Branch.
Betty's father had an eighth-grade education and her mother attended what is now the University of Central Arkansas for two years to become certified as a teacher.
Betty Bumpers said her father was a "dirt farmer" who had the first gasoline-powered washing machine in Grand Prairie. He gave the washer to his wife when they got married.
"They were tryin' to grub out a livin' on a worn-out dirt farm," Betty Bumpers told the Pryor Center.
Later, Babe Flanagan would have more financial success buying and selling cattle.
The family had four children, three girls and a boy.
When the hot summer dirt was scorching their bare feet, Betty Flanagan's big brother Callans would take his two youngest sisters by the hand.
"We'd go runnin' across the plowed field, hoppin' from one corn row to another with his help," Betty said.
When it was time to pick cotton, Betty's youngest sister Ruth would nap on her cotton sack while Betty dragged her through the field picking the cotton from both of their rows.
"I just remember doin' that 'cause I kinda looked after her," Betty said.
Many of Betty's ancestors were merchants and farmers. Her grandmother was a Chastain. The Chastain and Bumpers families were French Huguenots, she said in the 2010 interview.
Betty said she didn't know many black people as a child, but a black man worked occasionally on her father's farm. He was afraid of the dark, so he would get Betty and one of her sisters to ride on his shoulders when he walked to the barn at night to turn out the horses after they'd been fed.
When Betty was in the seventh grade, the family moved to Fort Smith.
She described Darby Junior High School as "an old castle building" with an indoor swimming pool. It was the first time she'd ever swam in a pool. Betty was used to swimming in "old coal pits" in Franklin County. Her grandmother would tie a rope around the kids and reel them in if she thought they were in danger.
The Flanagan family moved to Charleston the summer before her senior year of high school.
It was there that she met Dale Bumpers, who had a newspaper route and later worked as a butcher at the Kroger store. He would fly down the hill on his bicycle to deliver the paper, Betty remembered.
"I usually found some excuse to be out in the yard or somethin'," she said.
They began dating.
In 1942, Betty graduated from Charleston High School. Dale Bumpers had one more year to go.
For a year after she graduated, Betty and a sister ran a malt shop in Fort Smith. Then the family moved to Ames, Iowa.
She attended Iowa State University and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where she discovered she had a talent for making hats.
"I could have gone to work with designers or with some fashion house," she said in a biography written by Anna Eblen and Martha Jane Eblen.
Later, Betty taught elementary school in Charleston. She attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville before marrying Dale Bumpers in 1949. At the time, he was a law student at Northwestern University at Evanston, Ill.
After Dale Bumpers graduated from Northwestern, they returned to Charleston in 1950, where Betty taught elementary school while her husband established a law practice. They had three children: two boys, Brent and Bill, and a girl named Brooke.
Early in Dale Bumpers' legal career, the Charleston School Board asked his advice on how to proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which found the segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional.
"Bumpers advised the school board to comply with the decision immediately," according to an Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry on him.
The Rosenwald School for Charleston's black students was closed and the children started classes in the white schools. Before integration, Charleston's black high school students were bused to the all-black Lincoln High School in Fort Smith.
Charleston became the first school district in the former Confederate states to integrate all 12 grades after the Supreme Court ordered an end to segregated schools, according to the Arkansas encyclopedia.
"We integrated all grades 'cause I was teaching at the time," Betty Bumpers told the Pryor Center. "I had seven black kids in my third grade."
After her husband became governor of Arkansas in 1971, Betty Bumpers, as first lady, started a campaign to have every child in the state immunized by 1974.
The campaign drew national attention through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Betty Bumpers assisted other states in developing similar immunization programs.
She moved to Washington, D.C., after her husband's election to the Senate in 1974.
After Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, Betty Bumpers and first lady Rosalynn Carter worked to expand the immunization campaign.
After Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, Betty Bumpers' attention shifted to Reagan's policy toward the former Soviet Union, which included expanded nuclear arms production.
"In 1982, Bumpers and other congressional wives founded Peace Links on the idea that ordinary American women could develop lasting relationships with women in the Soviet Union based upon a shared concern for the well-being of children and families," according to the Arkansas encyclopedia.
Betty Bumpers spearheaded the effort and established the national headquarters in Washington with the help of friend and civil-rights activist Sara Murphy in Little Rock.
"Through her organization Peace Links, Betty was an early, effective voice against nuclear proliferation, a cause she championed when it was popular and when it wasn't," Clinton said.
Among other things, Peace Links established cultural exchanges for Soviet women to visit the United States and for American women to visit the Soviet Union.
"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the group assisted victims of the earlier Chernobyl accident, provided medical support for women and children, and started other social programs to promote friendships, such as the Peace Pals letter exchanges," according to the encyclopedia entry.
The group also established the Eleanor Roosevelt Living World Award for outstanding women in the cause of peace and conflict resolution. Recipients included Coretta Scott King, Rosalynn Carter, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The purpose of Peace Links became more diffused as the Cold War wound down. Some Peace Links groups focused on local problems such as gang violence while others began to consider global environmental issues as foundations of peacemaking.
The Peace Links national office in Washington closed in 2001. A few chapters continued the work to support other international peace and justice organizations.
Betty Bumpers continued to be a leading advocate-educator for childhood immunizations.
She and Rosalynn Carter started the national Every Child by Two campaign, an extensive outreach program that makes disease and immunization information available for parents as well as health professionals, and the information can be accessed online.
As a result of Bumpers' and Carter's efforts to promote childhood immunizations and comprehensive AIDS vaccine research, President Bill Clinton started the Vaccine Research Center in 1999. It was named for Dale and Betty Bumpers.
Clinton said his wife and Bumpers worked together to expand early-childhood immunizations nationwide.
"I'll never forget calling Betty from the White House to tell her we had finally reached her long-sought goal of 90 percent early immunizations," Clinton said.
"She was a remarkable person. How fortunate we are that she and Dale served our state and nation as long and as well as they did."
Betty Bumpers (left) joins then-first lady Hillary Clinton during Peace Links’ “Peace on Earth Gala” on Dec. 6, 1994 in Washington. Bumpers was the founder and president of Peace Links, an organization that promoted alternative ways to solve global conflicts.
A Section on 11/24/2018
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