Diane Blair (1938–2000)

Diane Frances Divers Kincaid Blair was a nationally respected educator, writer, speaker, political scientist, and public servant who authored two influential books, served as board chair of the Arkansas Educational Television Commission, chair of the U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting, member of the Electoral College, and professor of political science at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).

Diane Divers was born on October 25, 1938, in Washington DC to William Keeveny Divers and Minna Rosenbaum Divers, both attorneys; she had one older sister. Divers, selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa as a college student, graduated cum laude from Cornell University’s Department of Government in 1959.

Returning to Washington after college, she served as analyst for the President’s Committee on Government Contracts, research assistant with the Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, and legislative secretary and speechwriter for U.S. senator Stuart Symington of Missouri. In Washington, she married Arkansan Hugh Kincaid, an attorney with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and moved to Fayetteville in 1963. At that time, the newly created Department of Political Science at UA began offering a master’s degree program, which she completed in 1967.

In 1968, Kincaid became a part-time lecturer in political science at UA. Governor Dale Bumpers appointed her to chair the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1971. On February 14, 1975, the famed “Valentine’s Day Debate” took place in the Arkansas General Assembly, during which Kincaid took the “pro” position on passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) against her opponent, the nationally known Phyllis Schlafly. Though the ERA was not successful in Arkansas, it was generally agreed that Kincaid easily won the debate. In 1976, Governor David Pryor selected her to chair a commission on public employee rights.

Kincaid became an assistant professor of political science at UA in 1979. That same year, she published the first of two books, Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway, for which she provided the introduction and commentary on the journal of America’s first woman to be elected U.S. senator, Hattie Caraway. Also in 1979, after her marriage to Hugh Kincaid had ended, she married prominent northwest Arkansas attorney James (Jim) Burton Blair. Governor Bill Clinton performed the ceremony, with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as serving as “best person.”

In 1979, the Arkansas Press Women chose Blair to be included in the publication Horizons: 100 Arkansas Women of Achievement, sponsored by the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities. At UA, Blair was often named as favorite faculty member in student polls. She taught courses in American national government, state and local government, Arkansas politics, and politics in literature, and she received the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Master Teacher Award in 1982. In addition, she was a popular speaker at student events and was faculty advisor to several student organizations.

In 1980, Governor Clinton appointed Blair to the Commission for the Arkansas Educational Television Network. She served on the commission until 1993, acting as chairperson in 1986–87. Blair’s second book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?, was published in 1988. (At the time of her death, she and Hendrix College political science professor Jay Barth were working on a second edition.) Though not specifically written as a textbook, it is still widely used as the main text in many Arkansas colleges and universities.

During the successful Clinton-Gore presidential bid of 1992, Blair took a leave from UA for a year to serve as a senior advisor, researcher, and chronicler of the cross-country campaign. That year, she was also selected to be a member of the Arkansas delegation to the Electoral College. In 1996, she again took leave from UA to join the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign. Throughout her campaign work, she kept extensive journals and interviewed members of the Clinton-Gore team on their perceptions of the experience. Blair donated these and other papers to Special Collections at the UA Libraries.

After his 1992 election as president, Clinton appointed Blair to the board of directors of the U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which she later chaired. She was reappointed in 1997 and served so admirably that the organization named its boardroom in her honor.

A few of her many honors and recognitions include the Virginia Ledbetter Award in 1991 for her book on Arkansas politics; guest scholar status at Washington’s famed Brookings Institution in 1993; and selection by Arkansas Business as one of the “Top 100 Arkansas Women” in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Her work as an educator and political scientist was recognized by the Women’s Caucus at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in 1998, as well as at the 2006 Hattie Caraway Day at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro. In May 2000, Blair was presented an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by UA.

After a battle with lung cancer, Blair died on June 26, 2000. The Clintons were at her bedside in Fayetteville shortly before she died, and both eulogized their friend at the memorial service in her honor at the Walton Arts Center on July 25, 2000.

In honor of Blair, her husband bestowed an endowment to the Fayetteville Public Library. He also endowed the Diane Blair Chair of Political Science at the University of Arkansas. The Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas was established with funds appropriated from Congress with the support of President Clinton in late 2000. In 2019, she was inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame.

For additional information:
Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society. https://blaircenter.uark.edu/ (accessed August 29, 2022).

O’Neal, Rachel, and Dauphne Trenholm. “Diane Blair, Clinton Friend, Dead at 61.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 28, 2000, pp. 1A, 10A.

Saxon, Wolfgang. “Diane Blair, Professor of Politics, Friend of the Clintons, Was 61.” New York Times. June 28, 2000, p. 10B.

Nancy Hendricks
Arkansas State University


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