Bethine Clark Church

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Bethine Clark Church
Born (1923-02-19)February 19, 1923
Mackay, Idaho
Died December 21, 2013(2013-12-21) (aged 90)
Boise, Idaho
Nationality American
Citizenship American
Education Boise Junior College (now Boise State University), University of Michigan, B.A., 1945
Political party
Spouse(s) Frank Church (m. 1947–1984, his death)
Children Frank Forrester Church IV
Chase Clark Church
(b. 1957)

Bethine Clark Church (February 19, 1923 – December 21, 2013), was the spouse of U.S. Senator Frank Church of Idaho. As politically active as her husband, she earned the nickname of "Idaho's third senator."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Bethine Clark was born in Mackay, Idaho, to Jean Burnett and Chase A. Clark.[2] The Clark family was prominent in Idaho politics during the first half of the 20th Century. Bethine's grandfather, Joseph, was elected the first mayor of Idaho Falls in 1900.[3][4]

Chase Clark and Bethine's uncle, Barzilla W. Clark, both served as mayor of Idaho Falls and were subsequently elected Governor of Idaho, Chase Clark serving from 1941 to 1943. After losing his 1942 reelection bid, Chase Clark was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Idaho by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bethine Clark's cousin D. Worth Clark represented Idaho in Washington as a member of the United States House of Representatives and later the United States Senate.[2]

While attending Idaho Falls High School, Clark participated in the debate club and student government. When her father was elected governor the family moved to Boise. While attending Boise High School, Bethine met Frank Church and they became close friends. After graduating from high school, Clark attended Boise Junior College (now Boise State University) from 1941 to 1942. During her year there she was elected freshman class vice president. During this time, Frank Church was in the military stationed overseas, and the friends exchanged letters frequently. The next year Clark transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, "her father's alma mater."[2] In 1945, Bethine graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Bethine and Frank Church[edit]

Clark and Church stayed in touch throughout the early 1940s by writing letters to each other, while Bethine was in college in Boise and then in Ann Arbor. Church had attended Stanford University before enlisting in 1942, serving as a military intelligence officer in China, Burma and India during World War II."[5] After returning from service Frank proposed to Bethine. The couple announced their engagement in December 1946. On June 21, 1947, they were married at the Clark family ranch, Robinson Bar Ranch (44°14′49″N 114°40′41″W / 44.247°N 114.678°W / 44.247; -114.678), located east of Stanley.[2][6] (The ranch was later owned by singer Carole King.)[7]

Frank enrolled at Harvard Law School in September 1947, but was forced to withdraw and transfer to Stanford after being diagnosed with cancer. While he was undergoing cancer treatments, the couple welcomed their first child Frank Forrester IV in 1948 on September 23. In 1956, Frank ran for the United States Senate and beat first-term incumbent Herman Welker of Payette. The following year the family moved to Washington, D.C. and adopted a son and named him Chase Clark Church. Frank Church served four terms in the Senate but was defeated for reelection in 1980 by Steve Symms. Early in 1984, Church was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and he died on April 8 at age 59.[2]

In many ways Bethine Clark was as politically active as her husband, actively participating in his campaigns for the Senate and his 1976 Presidential campaign. Throughout his time as senator, Bethine's involvement in her husband's campaigns and active participation in public life earned her the informal title as "Idaho's third senator." Coming from a very politically involved and powerful family, Bethine Church was a natural for a career in public service. She has chaired or served as a trustee to many committees and organizations over the years.[1] After Frank’s death, Bethine continued her work in politics, on the national level as well as the state level. In later life she was known as the "matriarch of the Idaho Democratic Party."[2]

Political life[edit]

Bethine Church was urged to run for Senate in 1986. If she had decided to run, she would have been fighting for the same seat which her husband had previously held for 24 years.[8] Church knew she didn't fit into the classic mold for a politician's wife: "I have often described my life in Washington as like Cinderella's—I was either cleaning the fireplace or going to the ball."[1] Until her death Bethine Church was still involved with many organizations, including:

Church held many other prestigious titles over her career, including:


Church died in Boise on December 21, 2013. Her son Chase announced her death on Facebook.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e "About Bethine Church." Boise State University, n.d. Web. 17 Sep 2013. <>.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Passehl, Erin and Alan Virta. "Bethine Church Collection." n.pag. Boise State University Albertsons Library Digital Collections. Web. 17 Sep 2013. <>.
  3. ^ "Chase A. Clark dies". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Presss. December 31, 1966. p. 1. 
  4. ^ Nothing wrong, just gone. Our Campaigns, " Clark Church, Bethine." Last modified July 25, 2008. Accessed October 16, 2013.
  5. ^ Hunter, Marjorie. "Frank Church of Idaho, Who Served in the Senate for 24 Years, Dies at 59: [Obituary]." New York Times 08 Apr 1984, Late Edition (East Coast) A.44. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <>.
  6. ^ Sutton, Horace (September 21, 1975). "Stanley, Idaho, adventures haven". Lakeland Ledger (Lakeland Florida). p. 10D. 
  7. ^ "Musician Carole King’s Stanley ranch re-listed". Idaho Mountain Express. July 2, 2010. 
  8. ^ Clarity, James F. "BRIEFING; Mrs. Church Urged to Run." New York Times Jan 02 1985. ProQuest. Web. 6 Nov. 2013 .
  9. ^ "Bethine Church, Sen. Frank Church's political partner, dies at 90" Idaho Statesman, December 21, 2013. (accessed 7 January 2014)

Further reading[edit]