Ruth Olive Beall (1896–1974)
Ruth Olive Beall was superintendent of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Home from 1934 to 1961. She was largely responsible for the hospital’s survival during the financial difficulties of the Great Depression and for its expansion and improvement in the following years.
Ruth Beall was born in St. Louis, Missouri, sometime in 1896, the daughter of Charles Carlton Beall, a traveling salesman, and Florance Walcott Beall. While she was attending a boarding school in Arcadia, Missouri, her parents moved to Rogers (Benton County). Beall graduated from Washington University in St. Louis before joining her family in Arkansas.
In Rogers, Beall was advisor to the local chapter of the Junior Red Cross during World War I. She was briefly the owner and editor of the Rogers Daily Post and ended up working in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for the National Tuberculosis Association until 1926, when she returned to Rogers. She became Benton County secretary of the National Tuberculosis Association, a position she held for the next eight years.
Beall was concerned not only for people who suffered from tuberculosis but also for people who lived in poverty. At her own expense, she provided toothbrushes and toothpaste to children she met while traveling to rural schools throughout the county and taught children how to use them. At one school, she noticed that all of the children wore clothes made from identical blue flowered material. A teacher explained that the clothes were made from flour sacks, and Beall wrote the flour company persuading them to use a variety of colors and patterns for their sacks so that the children might have different-colored clothing.
At some point during her time in Benton County, Beall was briefly married to a man whose name is unknown. She divorced him sometime in 1933 or in the first weeks of 1934.
In January 1934, Beall traveled to Little Rock to bring a boy with tuberculosis to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for treatment. The boy died within days, and Beall went to Judge Thomas Humphreys, who was president of the hospital board, to complain about conditions at the facility. Humphreys offered the position of superintendent, about to be vacated, to Beall. She accepted, and on February 1, 1934, she became the second superintendent of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Home.
At the time, the hospital was thirty days away from foreclosure, needing $30,000 to keep going through the year. Beall persuaded attorney Cooper Jacoway to collect money for the hospital, and he raised $16,000. The remaining $14,000 was also raised, likely from the Masonic lodges of Arkansas.
Beall hid $7,000 of the money in a safe deposit box and used it to pay for cash-on-delivery necessities for the hospital. To save money, Beall fired all of the department heads and took their duties upon herself. She asked the members of the Home Demonstration Clubs of Arkansas, about 39,000 women, to donate food and other necessities to the hospital, which they did. Beall enrolled all of the children in the home in public schools so that she could close the school at the home, freeing funds for the hospital. To save food for the children, she went on a diet of cheese sandwiches. With the money that the hospital saved, Beall made improvements to both the hospital and the home. She added a library to the home to help the children with schoolwork.
Beall acquired building materials worth $33,000 from the Public Works Administration and the labor to renovate the buildings from the Works Progress Administration. In 1936, she established the Arkansas chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now known as the March of Dimes. On October 14, 1936, Arkansas Children’s Hospital was fully accredited by the American College of Surgeons, which had withdrawn its approval of the hospital several years earlier.
Beall disliked staying in her office and usually wandered the halls of the hospital, checking on her patients and staff. Her temper was famous. She was easily angered when things were not done the way she wanted, and a February 17, 1951, article in the Saturday Evening Post bore the headline, “The Terrible-Tempered Angel of Arkansas.” However, that same year, the Arkansas Democrat named her “Arkansas Woman of the Year.”
Beall retired in 1961 because of health problems. On October 29, 1961, a reception was held for her at Riverdale Country Club. The hospital’s chapel, named after Beall, was dedicated on July 15, 1973.
Beall died on April 18, 1974. She is buried in Roselawn Memorial Park.
For additional information:
“Children’s Home to Have New Head.” Arkansas Gazette. February 2, 1934, p. 1A.
“Chosen Head for Children’s Home, Hospital.” Arkansas Democrat. February 2, 1934, p. 7A.
Hanley, Steven G. A Place of Care, Love, and Hope: A History of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Little Rock: August House, 1994.
“Long-time Head of Hospital Dies.” Arkansas Democrat. April 19, 1974, p. 10B.
Obituary of Ruth Beall. Arkansas Democrat. April 21, 1974, p. 17A.
Obituary of Ruth Beall. Arkansas Gazette. April 21, 1974, p. 18A.
Sallee, Bob. “Backward Glances: A Bad-Tempered Angel Helped Save Children’s.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. April 29, 1997, p. 4E.
———. “Backward Glances: Angel Watched over Kids for 27 years.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 1, 1997, p. 4E.
Spence, Hartzell. “The Terrible-Tempered Angel of Arkansas.” Saturday Evening Post, February 17, 1951, pp. 25, 66–69, 72.
North Little Rock, Arkansas
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