Bessie Grace Boehm Moore (1902–1995)

Bessie Boehm Moore was an educator and civic leader. She was widely known for her efforts in the promotion of libraries. Later in life, her focus was on economic education in the public schools and the creation of what is now the Ozark Folk Center State Park. She was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.

Bessie Grace Boehm was born on August 2, 1902, in Owensboro, Kentucky, to Edgar Boehm, a farmer, and Bessie Calloway Boehm, a homemaker. Her mother died a few hours after her birth. Boehm was taken to her aunt in Daviess County, Kentucky, where she lived until her father remarried when she was nine.

Boehm learned to read at an early age and was educated in small rural schools in Kentucky. Edgar Boehm moved his family to north-central Arkansas to settle land he acquired through the Homestead Act. Boehm continued her education at the school in nearby Mountain View (Stone County). At the age of fourteen, she took the teacher’s exam and was hired by the school board at St. James (Stone County), between Mountain View and Batesville (Independence County).

In 1924, she met Merlin Moore, and they became engaged four days later. In 1926, she accepted a job as supervisor for the Jefferson County Rural Schools in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where Merlin Moore resided. The couple married in September 1928. In 1937, Merlin Moore bought a cafeteria in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Bessie Moore took a position with the North Little Rock (Pulaski County) schools as an elementary schools supervisor. She earned a BA in education from Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) in Conway (Faulkner County) in 1942. When her husband became ill in 1947, Moore joined him in their business, Moore’s Cafeteria. Her husband died of a heart attack in January 1958, and she sold the business. The Moores did not have any children.

Moore received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1959, followed by an MA in education from the University of Connecticut in Storrs in 1962.

Returning to the education profession after her husband’s death, Moore joined the Arkansas Department of Education as supervisor of elementary education. In 1961, she was appointed coordinator of economic education, where she worked to implement a program of economic education through the school systems. The Arkansas State Council on Economic Education was formed in 1962, with Moore as the executive director. She served in that capacity until 1979. The Center for Economic Education at the University of Arkansas was named the Bessie Boehm Moore Center for Economic Education and dedicated in her honor on May 25, 1979.

Her interest in libraries began early in her career, and she was instrumental in the organization of the first county library in 1926 in Pine Bluff. Moore joined the American Library Association in 1929 and began working on the promotion of libraries at the national level. She was appointed to the board of the Arkansas Library Commission in 1941 and served until 1979. She was active in the trustee division and served as president of the American Library Trustee Association (ALTA) from 1957 to 1959. In 1966, she was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the National Advisory Commission on Libraries (which later became the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science). Moore served until 1988 due to successive appointments by U.S. presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. The American Library Association awarded its honorary membership to Moore in 1980, the association’s highest honor.

Moore served as chair of the Ozark Folk Cultural Commission and led its efforts, which culminated with the dedication of the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View on May 5, 1973. The Committee of 100 was established in 1974 through the joint effort of Moore and Betty Bumpers (wife of Governor Dale Bumpers) to carry out annual fundraising to support the Ozark Folk Center. Appointed to the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission in preparation for the state’s 1986 sesquicentennial, Moore served as chair of the Finance Task Force.

The Bessie B. Moore Stone County Library in Mountain View opened in August 1992 and was named in recognition of her efforts and her $100,000 contribution, which started the fundraising drive. When the Arkansas State Library moved in January 2010 to 900 West Capitol Avenue, the largest meeting room was named the Bessie B. Moore Conference Room.

Moore died on October 24, 1995, in Little Rock, and is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Pine Bluff.

For additional information:
Cox, Sandra. “Bessie Moore: Champion of Libraries Also Made Mission of Economic Education.”Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 25, 1995, p. 6B.

Fersh, George L., and Mildred Fersh.Bessie Moore: A Biography. Little Rock: August House, 1986.

Rains, Judy. “High Profile: Bessie Grace Boehm Moore.”Arkansas Democrat, May 27, 1990, pp. 1, 8.

Carolyn Ashcraft
Arkansas State Library


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