Carolyn Pollan (1937–2021)
Carolyn Pollan, a longtime Republican officeholder, served twelve two-year terms and twenty-four years in the Arkansas House of Representatives, making her both the longest-serving Republican and longest-serving woman in Arkansas House history.
Carolyn Joan Clark was born on July 12, 1937, in Houston, Texas, to Rex Clark and Faith Basye Clark. After years working in the oil fields in Texas, Rex Clark moved his family to Springdale (Washington and Benton counties), where he worked in the poultry business. Carolyn Clark graduated from Springdale High School (where one of her teachers was former legislator Helen Buchanan) in 1955 and then went on to what later became John Brown University, a private Christian college in Siloam Springs (Benton County). She graduated in 1959 but retained close ties with the school, later serving on the college’s board of trustees for more than twenty-five years, including a stint as vice chair. She earned a PhD in education from Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
She married George Angelo Pollan, a native of Fort Smith (Sebastian County). They had two sons and a daughter.
Carolyn Pollan first became involved in politics as a volunteer in Winthrop Rockefeller’s gubernatorial campaigns of the 1960s. In 1974, she was elected to the Arkansas House from a multi-seat legislative district that included all of Sebastian County. The district would eventually be divided into single-member seats from which Pollan would continuously win overwhelming reelection victories until term limits forced her retirement in 1999.
Over the course of her lengthy career, her committee assignments included the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth; the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Subcommittee on Administrative Rules and Regulations; the House Education Committee; and the House Oversight Committee. Pollan was the first woman appointed as associate speaker pro tempore of the Arkansas House of Representatives.
One of the highlights of Pollan’s career in the House was her effort in 1977 to secure Arkansas’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which had been passed by Congress in 1972 and sent on to the states for ratification. While an earlier effort had failed, in 1977, with the effort stalled and the seven-year period allowed for ratification nearing its end, Pollan spearheaded an effort to revive consideration of the amendment in the Arkansas legislature. She came up short, although unlike the previous effort in 1975, Pollan did offer a brief bit of hope for pro-ratification forces when her proposal won passage, on a voice vote, by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. But when Pollan and her allies tried to bring the ratification proposal to the floor of the full house for a vote, ERA opponents were able to get it referred to the Rules Committee, where it remained for the rest of the legislative session.
Following Frank White’s upset victory over Bill Clinton in the 1980 gubernatorial election, Pollan served as legislative counsel as well as an informal advisor to Governor White. In the wake of White’s defeat in 1982, Pollan was a driving force behind the selection of University of Arkansas School of Law professor Morris S. Arnold as state party chairman. Following her forced retirement from the House, Pollan served as legislative liaison for Governor Mike Huckabee. In 2003, he appointed her to the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission.
With Amelia Martin, Pollan served as one of the original co-editors of the Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society, which debuted in September 1977. She also served as chair of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. She became involved in literacy education in Fort Smith and owned the Carolyn Pollan Patent Model Museum, which exhibited patent models from the nation’s founding year. After a year, the public was given free access to the museum, although Pollan later sold the collection to a museum in New York State.
After retiring, Pollan lived in Fort Smith until her death on October 23, 2021.
For additional information:
Herzog, Rachel. “Legislative Fighter for Kids Dies.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 27, 2021, p. 4B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/oct/27/legislative-fighter-for-kids-dies-at-84/ (accessed October 27, 2021).
Lancaster, Bill “Scoop.” Inside the Arkansas Legislature. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2015.
Women State Legislators in Arkansas: Judy Petty Wolf, Carolyn Pollan, Kathy Webb. Memphis, TN: LLC Books, 2010.
William H. Pruden III
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