Mary Fletcher Worthen (1917–2015)
Mary Fletcher Worthen was a cultural leader, volunteer, historian, and author whose life spanned an era of great changes in her home state of Arkansas.
Mary Fletcher was born on October 6, 1917, on Fletcher Farm near Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties) to Tom Fletcher and Mamie Sandlin Fletcher. She was part of an old Arkansas family, as her great-great-grandparents—Henry Lewis Fletcher and Mary Lindsey Fletcher—arrived in what became Arkansas in 1815. Worthen was home-schooled until the ninth grade and attended one semester at East Side Junior High. She graduated from Little Rock High School (later called Central High) and Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock). Inspired by her cousin Adolphine Fletcher Terry, she continued her education at Vassar College before leaving to marry Booker Worthen in 1937.
She moved into an active family and civic life in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She joined the Junior League of Little Rock in 1938. Taking the league’s training in public service seriously, she was active in Well Baby Clinic, the Speech Correction School, and the Children’s Theater (eventually being named Sustainer of the Year in 1971). Also in 1938, she was invited to join the Aesthetic Club, for which she regularly performed on the piano, an instrument she had studied from childhood. She was elected president of the club. Her love of music also called her to participate in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, serving as president of the Arkansas Orchestra Society Board and later being named lifetime board member. In 1953, she helped found the Chamber Music Society, serving for a time as president. She served as president of the Family Service Agency and the Elizabeth Mitchell Children’s Home.
She was the author of The History of Trinity: The Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, Little Rock, 1884–1995 (1996); coauthor of Recipes in Perpetuity, a book of recipes and lore related to Mount Holly Cemetery (2010); compiler, with Sybil Crawford, of The Mount Holly Cemetery Burial Index (1993); and compiler and editor of Matters and Things in General (1974), readings from Arkansas’s territorial period. She was given the 2000 Best Community History award by the Arkansas Historical Association for her article “The Boathouse: The Athletic Association of Little Rock, 1882–1938,” published in the Pulaski County Historical Review. She also wrote a pamphlet on medicinal herb lore called “Frontier Pharmacy,” published by the Herb Society of America (HSA), Arkansas Unit.
Joining the board of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association in 1953, she served as its treasurer for forty-one years. She became famous for her tours of the cemetery, often sold at charity auctions. She and her good friend Peg Newton Smith were featured on a DVD tour of the cemetery, produced by Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM). She was involved in the Herb Society, co-founding the Arkansas Unit, serving as its chair, and volunteering for many years at the Arkansas Chapter’s garden sites, especially at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion and HAM. The Herb Society named the medicinal herb garden at HAM in her honor. Worthen, her husband, and Rollie and Ruth Remmel served as co-treasurers of the National Herb Garden, developed by the HSA at the National Arboretum in Washington DC.
While serving as president of the Forest Park Elementary School PTA (1956–1957), she participated in the Little Rock School District’s preparation for the desegregation that was planned for the 1957–58 school year. After the Little Rock high schools were closed for the 1958–59 year, she joined her cousin Adolphine Fletcher Terry in the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, which helped to elect moderate members to the Little Rock School Board to ensure that schools were reopened and desegregation proceeded peacefully.
She was a founding member of the board of the Arkansas Supreme Court Historical Society, served on the Commemorative Commission (which oversaw the Old State House and Trapnall Hall), and was elected president of the Pulaski County Historical Society in 1994 and 1995. Twice, she chaired the Quapaw Quarter Tour of Historic Homes. She was on the board of Scott Connections, a historical preservation society based in Scott. She was on the boards of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock History Institute and the university’s alumni association. She received the university Shield of the Trojan Distinguished Alumni Award and, in 2006, was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters for her civic, cultural, historical, and charitable work over her lifetime. She was elected to the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Directors and became the president of the Fine Arts Club. Because of her commitment to museums over the years, the Arkansas Museums Association presented her with the Peg Newton Smith Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
She was a member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral all of her life, singing in the choir, serving on the vestry, and serving as president of the Trinity Cathedral Churchwomen. She also served as secretary of the executive council of the Diocese of Arkansas and as president of the Diocesan Churchwomen. She was featured in the book Horizons: 100 Arkansas Women of Achievement, compiled by the Arkansas Press Women in 1980.
Worthen died on June 15, 2015. She is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.
For additional information:
Arkansas Press Women. Horizons: 100 Arkansas Women of Achievement. Little Rock: Rose Publishing Company Inc., 1980.
“A Life of Service Fit Longtime Volunteer.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 17, 2015, p. 4B.
Rains, Judy. “Mary Sandlin Fletcher Worthen.” Arkansas Democrat High Profile, June 1, 1986, pp. 1, 7.
William B. Worthen
Little Rock, Arkansas
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