Betty Bumpers

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Betty Bumpers
Betty Bumpers was pictured with Bill Clinton and Dale Bumpers 1999.jpg
Betty Bumpers in 1999
First Lady of Arkansas
In role
January 12, 1971 – January 3, 1975
GovernorDale Bumpers
Preceded byJeannette Edris Rockefeller
Succeeded byClaudia Riley (acting)[1]
Personal details
BornBetty Lou Flanagan
(1925-01-11) January 11, 1925 (age 93)
Grand Prairie, Franklin County, Arkansas
Spouse(s)Dale Bumpers
Known forAdvocacy for immunizations and world peace

Betty Lou Flanagan Bumpers (born January 11, 1925) was First Lady of Arkansas, from 1971 to 1975. She is an advocate for childhood immunizations and world peace. She and Rosalynn Carter ran a successful campaign to ensure that all American school children were immunized. She is also the widow of Dale Bumpers, former State governor and U.S. Senator.[2][3]

Early life and family[edit]

Betty Flanagan was born in the Grand Prairie community in Franklin County, Arkansas, on January 11, 1925, to salesman and auctioneer Herman Edward "Babe" Flanagan and his wife Ola Callans Flanagan. She grew up in Franklin County, except for a period during World War II when her family lived in Fort Smith and in the state of Iowa. After study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and Iowa State University,[4] she taught elementary school. In 1949 she married Dale Bumpers, a high school classmate who was then in law school at Northwestern University. After her husband finished law school, the couple settled in Charleston, Arkansas, where Dale Bumpers practiced law and Betty worked as an elementary school teacher. They had three children.[2][5][6]

Advocacy for childhood immunization[edit]

In 1970, Dale Bumpers was elected Governor of Arkansas. When he took office in 1971, Betty became the state's first lady. In that role, she decided to focus on the well-being of children and families. Responding to Arkansas' having one of the lowest rates of childhood immunization in the United States, she initiated a statewide campaign to immunize all of the state's children against childhood diseases. Her Every Child by '74 program, which involved cooperative effort by state government, professional organizations of doctors and nurses, the Arkansas National Guard, the University of Arkansas extension service, faith-based organizations, and other volunteers.[2][3] It was a very successful campaign, delivering immunizations to over 350,000 children on just one Saturday near its peak.[5] As a result of the program, the state attained one of the highest childhood immunization rates of any U.S. state. The Arkansas program was adopted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a model for nationwide use.[2][3]

Dale Bumpers entered the U.S. Senate in 1974, and the couple moved to Washington, DC. Two years later, when Jimmy Carter arrived in Washington as the new U.S. President, Betty Bumpers sought his support for a nationwide program of childhood immunization and enlisted the assistance of First Lady Rosalynn Carter.[2][3] After finding that only a small number of states required children to be immunized before entering school,[7] the two women joined forces and undertook a campaign to convince every U.S. states to adopt this requirement. After just two years of advocacy work focused on individual state governments, they achieved their goal of having all 50 U.S. states require immunization for school entry.[3][5]

A measles epidemic in 1989-1991 that killed over 200 children led to a new collaboration between Bumpers and Carter. Concerned that preschool children were vulnerable to preventable illnesses because they weren't getting immunized on schedule, they founded the organization Every Child By Two, with the aim of assuring immunizations for all American children by the age of two. As of 2012, Bumpers said that the group's efforts to establish outreach programs and immunization registers in each state had contributed to an immunization rate of 90 percent for children from birth to age two.[3][5]

Peace Links[edit]

A 1981 conversation with her college-student daughter, Brooke, inspired Betty Bumpers to become a peace activist, focused on ending the nuclear weapons race. While driving together to Arkansas from Washington, DC, they crossed the Clinch River, the namesake of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, leading Brooke to ask her mother what the family would do in a nuclear war or the aftermath of a nuclear disaster. Betty Bumpers' light-hearted response of "Well, honey, I guess we’d just go back to Arkansas" did not silence her daughter, who responded "Don’t be so stupid, Mother," and asked what would happen if Arkansas was destroyed. Her realization that her daughter considered nuclear war to be a real threat to her future motivated Betty Bumpers to start a campaign for peace.[5][8]

After discussing the matter with her fellow Senate wives and other like-minded women in Washington, Betty Bumpers decided to work to bring mainstream American women into the campaign for a nuclear weapons freeze, building on her earlier experience with grassroots volunteer activism. She started the organization Peace Links in Little Rock in 1982, Peace Links worked with established women's groups such as garden clubs, parent teacher associations, and church organizations to educate women about the consequences of the nuclear arms race and to engage them in campaigning for world peace.[5][8][9] Within a short time, Peace Links expanded beyond Arkansas and counted some 30,000 members around the United States. It operated as a national organization for nearly 20 years, disbanding in 2001 after the end of the Cold War.[2][5]


Betty Bumpers, Bill Clinton and Dale Bumpers in 1999

After Dale Bumpers left the Senate in January 1999, the couple remained in Washington, DC, until 2010, when they returned to Arkansas. She now lives in Little Rock, where Betty Bumpers maintains a garden and keeps chickens. She and Rosalynn Carter continue to be involved with the leadership of Every Child By Two.[5]

Awards and recognitions[edit]

The National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center is named for Dale and Betty Bumpers in recognition of their efforts to promote childhood immunizations and vaccine research.[2]

Among the awards that Betty Bumpers has received are:

In 1994 Peace Links gave her a special Peace Links Founders Award.[9] In 1995, she and her husband shared the Maxwell Finland Award of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and in 1998 they shared the March of Dimes Citizen of the Year Award, recognizing their commitment to children’s health and polio eradication.[10] The couple also were joint recipients of the Excellence in Public Service Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics.[10] In 2005 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[11] She has received honorary degrees from Hendrix College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the University of Massachusetts.[10][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lockwood, Frank (2016-01-03). "1st lady for 11 days, Claudia Riley dies; Arkadelphian a Democrat stalwart". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Betty Bumpers (1925–)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Betty Bumpers". National Women's Hall of Fame.
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture states that she attended the University of Iowa.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Martin, Karen (June 1, 2012). "Betty Bumpers On Her Lifetime of Service and Volunteerism".
  6. ^ "President Clinton to Visit University of Arkansas". University of Arkansas Newswire. April 9, 2012.
  7. ^ Sources disagree on the number of states that required mandatory immunization. In her 2012 interview with, Betty Bumpers gave the number as 11 states. The National Women's Hall of Fame gives the number as 17 states.
  8. ^ a b Lindenmeyer, Kriste (2000). Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives: Women in American History. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 251–253. ISBN 9780842027540.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Betty Bumpers' Awards and Recognitions". Every Child By Two. Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  10. ^ "Women of the Hall". National Women's Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Institute Welcomes New Board of Directors". United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved October 10, 2012.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Jeannette Edris Rockefeller
First Lady of Arkansas
Succeeded by
Claudia Riley