Bethine Clark Church

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

Jean 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]

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

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

While attending Idaho Falls High School, Clark participated in the debate club and student government. After her father was elected governor during her senior year, the family moved to Boise. While attending Boise High School, Bethine met junior Frank Church and they became close friends. After graduation in 1941, she attended Boise Junior College (now Boise State University) for a year, and was elected freshman class vice president. Frank Church graduated from Boise High in 1942 and enrolled at Stanford University in California; Clark transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, "her father's alma mater,"[2] and graduated in 1945 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology.

Bethine and Frank Church[edit]

While Clark was in Ann Arbor and after, she and Church stayed in touch by letters. After a year at Stanford, Church enlisted in the military in 1943, and served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in China, Burma, and India during World War II."[5] After returning from military service, he returned to Stanford and proposed marriage to Clark; 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 completed his bachelor's degree in political science at Stanford in 1947 and enrolled at Harvard Law School that September, 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. At age 32 in 1956, Frank ran for the U.S. 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 at age 90 in Boise on December 21, 2013. Her son Chase announced her death on Facebook.[9]

Further reading[edit]


  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.
  9. ^ "Bethine Church, Sen. Frank Church's political partner, dies at 90" Idaho Statesman, December 21, 2013. (accessed 7 January 2014)

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