Elizabeth Campbell (television)

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Margaret Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell (December 4, 1902 – January 9, 2004) was an American public television executive. Campbell also served as a teacher, college administrator, as a notable board member for the Arlington Public Schools, and as the founder of WETA-TV, the first public television station in Washington, D.C.[1]

Early and family life[edit]

Elizabeth Pfohl was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to a Moravian minister and a music teacher. She had a sister, Ruth, who survived her. Pfohl received her high school education at Salem Academy where she graduated in 1919. She then attended Salem College, a related institution, and received a bachelor's degree in education in 1923. She later received her master's degree in Education from Columbia University.[2]

Pfohl married trial lawyer and widower Edmund D. Campbell in 1936, and moved with him to Arlington, Virginia, where she helped raise his two children, and they would have three sons together. Rev. Edmund D. Campbell, Jr. predeceased his long-lived mother, but the twins H. Donald Campbell and Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell and their sister Virginia Campbell Holt survived her, as well did nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.[3]

Educator and school board chair[edit]

Pfohl returned to her high school to begin her education career, teaching girls at Salem Academy and after two years, she began teaching college level courses. She then transitioned into education administration, serving as dean of Moravian College for Women in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for two years (although she was just 25 when appointed). Beginning in 1929, and during the Great Depression until 1936, Pfohl served as dean at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia.[2]

In Arlington, as she raised her family, Campbell realized that Virginia's public schools had very real problems, in part due to underfunding, as well as policies of racial segregation added to the state constitution early in the century.

In 1947, Campbell was elected to the school board of Arlington County, Virginia, which was the first directly elected school board in Virginia. While on the board (beginning in 1948, and including after her re-election in 1951), Campbell was instrumental in adding fine arts classes, as well as comparable facilities for African-American and white students. She also led efforts to secure higher teacher salaries and build new schools in the growing city.

Campbell served as the school board's chair from 1950 until 1956, when Arlington's elected school board was replaced by an appointed board during the state's Massive Resistance crisis. Beginning in 1954, Campbell helped pave the way to desegregate Arlington's public schools, despite opposition to the Supreme Court's decisions in Brown vs. Board of Education proclaimed by Virginia's U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. and others. Her husband came to represent parents of students in Norfolk, Virginia who had been locked out of schools closed by the Byrd Organization rather than allow then integrate pursuant to court orders. Both Campbells sought to work with parents across the state to resolved the crisis.

On January 19, 1959, separate decisions of the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed racial segregation as unconstitutional, and parts of segregationists' workaround attempts as unconstitutional. Although governor (and former attorney general) J. Lindsay Almond Jr. had initially supported Massive Resistance, he recognized judicial authority. Both Arlington's and Norfolk's schools peacefully desegregated in February 1959. Campbell was again elected to the school board later that year, and again served as its chair from 1960-1962.[2]

WETA and Public Broadcasting[edit]

Campbell was intrigued by the power of television since the 1940s, believing that it could be used for educational purposes. In 1952, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized Channel 26 to be designated for educational television, and in 1953, the Greater Washington Educational Television Association (GWETA) was created. Campbell joined the GWETA in 1956 initially as vice chairman, and became president a year later. While she was the GWETA president, Campbell worked hard to raise funds for a local educational TV station in Washington, DC. In 1961, an application was sent to the FCC to open WETA, and on October 2, the station finally went on the air.

The station initially was on the air only during daytime hours on weekdays, but it was soon on the air 86 hours a week, including weekends in 1966. WETA-TV today is on the air 24 hours a day and is the third largest public television station in the United States. In 1966, Campbell helped expand WETA into the radio market, with a WETA radio station going on the air in 1970 at 90.9 FM, which plays mostly classical music, and NPR news programming.

Post-WETA Work[edit]

In 1971, Campbell retired from the GWETA and WETA-TV as its president, but held the position of Vice President of Community Affairs, which she held until she died. During this time, Campbell helped launch the Children’s Art Festival of the Washington, DC area; and the Elizabeth P. Campbell Lecture Series, which presented broadcasting notables. Because of her groundwork for WETA as well as public broadcasting in general, Campbell was given high honors, including an Emmy Award in 1987, honorary doctorates from Washington and Lee University and Salem College. Campbell also won many awards in the Public Broadcasting community for her service, from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. [4] Campbell continued to serve on other community boards, including the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association, the YWCA, and as a board of trustees member for Salem Academy, where she organized a partnership between the school and WETA-TV which included internships for Salem students during their unique January term.

On January 9, 2004, Campbell died in Arlington after a brief illness at the age of 101. Arlington, Virginia honored her by naming a grade school as well as Campbell Lane after her,[5] and the Virginia State Senate passed Joint Resolution No. 174 noting "with great sadness the loss of a unique and irreplaceable citizen."[6]


  1. ^ "Working Out Her Destiny". Library of Virginia. 
  2. ^ a b c "Working Out Her Destiny - Notable Virginia Women - Campbell". Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  3. ^ "Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell's Obituary on The Washington Post". Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  4. ^ "WETA's Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell Awarded Public Television's Highest Recognition". Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
  5. ^ "Margaret Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell, Marker C-72". www.markerhistory.com. 
  6. ^ "Senate Joint Resolution No. 174". Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information System. [permanent dead link]