Entries - Gender: Female - Starting with B

Babcock, Bernie

aka: Julia Burnelle Smade Babcock
In 1903, Julia Burnelle (Bernie) Smade Babcock became the first Arkansas woman to be included in Authors and Writers Who’s Who. She published more than forty novels, as well as numerous tracts and newspaper and magazine articles. She founded the Museum of Natural History in Little Rock (Pulaski County), was a founding member of the Arkansas Historical Society, and was the first president of the Arkansas branch of the National League of American Pen Women. Bernie Smade was born in Union, Ohio, on April 28, 1868, the first of six children, to Hiram Norton Smade and Charlotte Elizabeth (Burnelle) Smade. The Smades raised their children with a freedom uncharacteristic for that time. When Smade’s lively imagination was mistaken for lying …

Babcock, Lucille (Lucy)

Lucille (Lucy) Babcock was a noted actress in theater and television who established the first community theater in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She also fostered the literary organizations her grandmother, writer Bernie Babcock, founded. Lucy Babcock was born Lucille Thornburg on September 30, 1921, to Frances Babcock Thornburg and John Thornburg. She had one sibling. While she was still an infant, her father deserted the family. Her grandmother had purchased Broadview, a wooded acreage that overlooked Little Rock, and the family moved into her barn-cum-house. At school, she was often in trouble for defending the underdog, recalling, “No one ever told me fighting was wrong.” Her circumstances and the area where she lived branded her as “white trash.” She attended …

Bailey, Marian Breland

Marian (Ruth Kruse) Breland Bailey was a pioneer in the field of animal behavior. Marian and her first husband, Keller Breland, were the first to use operant conditioning technology for commercial purposes. From their Hot Springs (Garland County) farm, the Brelands exported the new technology all over the world. Marian Ruth Kruse was born on December 2, 1920, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Christian and Harriet (Prime) Kruse. Christian Kruse owned an auto parts supply house. Harriet was a registered nurse. Marian had one brother, Donald. She was known as “Mouse” to her friends; Marian’s father was the first to call her “Maus,” a common German term of endearment for girls. Later, when Marian met her soon-to-be husband, Keller, he also …

Barton, Dorothy Yarnell

Dorothy Yarnell Barton was a dedicated educator who taught at the secondary level and later as a professor at schools in Arkansas and Louisiana. She was also a prolific writer and wrote on subjects such as education theory, family history, and travel. Dorothy Atwood Yarnell was born on May 6, 1900, in Searcy (White County) to local salesman James S. Yarnell and his wife, Margaret Yarnell. She had one sibling, a brother named James who was born in 1903. She was also first cousin once removed to Ray Yarnell (1896–1974), who began the Yarnell Ice Cream Company in 1933. Dorothy Yarnell spent her childhood and young adult life in Searcy and attended Galloway Women’s College, graduating with a BA in …

Bates, Daisy Lee Gatson

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. She and the Little Rock Nine gained national and international recognition for their courage and persistence during the desegregation of Central High when Governor Orval Faubus ordered members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the entry of black students. She and her husband, Lucious Christopher (L. C.) Bates, published the Arkansas State Press, a newspaper dealing primarily with civil rights and other issues in the black community. The identity of Daisy Gatson’s birth parents has not been conclusively established. Before the age of seven, she was taken in as a foster child by Susie …

Batson, Luenell

aka: Luenell
aka: Luenell Campbell
Luenell, who goes by only her first name professionally, is a comedian and a film and television actress known for her appearances in such movies as Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and Hotel Transylvania (2012). She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2015. Luenell was born Luenell Batson on March 12, 1959, in Tollette (Howard County), a historically black community. Her father was murdered while her mother was pregnant with her. As her mother already had seven other children, she was adopted by family members out of state, becoming Luenell Campbell and moving to California. She attended school in the community of Castro Valley in the San Francisco …

Beall, Ruth Olive

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 …

Beals, Melba Pattillo

Melba Pattillo Beals made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students involved in the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. She later recounted this harrowing year in her book titled Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School. Melba Pattillo was born on December 7, 1941, in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Beals grew up surrounded by family members who knew the importance of an education. Her mother, Lois Marie Pattillo, PhD, was one of the first black graduates of the University of …

Beebe, Ginger Kay Croom

Ginger Kay Croom Beebe is the wife of Mike Beebe, who was the forty-fifth governor of Arkansas. In 2007, she became the state’s fortieth first lady. Outside of politics, she has been best known for her efforts in adoption, literacy, and removing the stigma from mental illness. Ginger Kay Croom was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on September 3, 1949. Adopted at the age of four, she was raised in Searcy (White County) by Buell and Virginia Croom. Her adoptive father was an Amoco Oil Company wholesale distributor, and her adoptive mother was a homemaker. She has no photographic record of life before her adoption, stating, “I was born in Little Rock, and then adopted at age 4 by …

Bennett, Fran

Fran Bennett is an actress who has worked in theater, television, and films. She appeared on stage across the nation and in Europe, and she has played roles on television from the 1960s onward in such hit shows as Guiding Light, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Scandal. Bennett was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2005. Fran Bennett was born on August 14, 1937, in Malvern (Hot Spring County). Bennett earned a BS and an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and went on to earn credit toward a PhD there before leaving the program. She studied voice under Kristin Linklater, a Scottish actress who relocated to the United States in 1963 to work …

Berry, Danielle Bunten

aka: Daniel Bunten
Danielle (Dani) Berry was a revolutionary computer game designer who specialized in multi-player games at a time when few in the industry were interested in the idea. She is also remembered for breaking gender boundaries in the industry, having been assigned male at birth but undergoing gender transition late in her career. Berry’s 1983 game M.U.L.E. was listed third on Computer Gaming World’s 1996 list of the best games of all time, and Will Wright, the designer of Sim City, once said, “Ask most game designers what their favorite computer game of all time is, and you’ll get M.U.L.E. as an answer more often than any other title.” She was a major influence upon the likes of Wright and Civilization …

Billingsley, Carolyn Earle

Carolyn Earle Billingsley was a noted historian and author who worked to connect the fields of history, anthropology, and genealogy. The founding editor of the journal of the Saline County History and Heritage Society, she received the Booker Worthen Literary Prize in 2005 for her book Communities of Kinship. Carolyn Earle was born on August 5, 1948, in Dallas, Texas. Her parents, Robert Shelton Earle and Lillian Jean Young, were both Little Rock (Pulaski County) natives. In 1966, she married James Lloyd Billingsley, and the couple settled in Alexander (Pulaski and Saline counties). They had two sons and two daughters. Billingsley was a founding member of the Saline County History and Heritage Society and the first editor of the Saline …

Billingsley, ReShonda Tate

ReShonda Tate Billingsley is a journalist, public speaker, publisher, editor, ghostwriter, and producer; however, it is for her work as an award-winning national bestselling author that she is most known. Since publishing her first novel, My Brother’s Keeper (2001), through her own publishing company before Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books began publishing it, she has authored more than forty additional novels and contributed to several anthologies. Most of her novels have been published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books and have spanned several genres, including nonfiction and both teen and adult fiction. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2010. ReShonda Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Bruce Tate and Nancy Kilgore. She moved to Arkansas …

Bindursky, Esther

Esther Bindursky, editor of the weekly Lepanto News Record for thirty-four years, was an award-winning journalist and photographer known for her perceptive feature and column writing, newsworthy pictures, and selfless community service. Esther Bindursky was born on January 28, 1904, in Drew, Mississippi. Her father, Meyer Bindursky, born in Bessarabia (which was divided between Moldova and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union), was a merchant, and her mother, Minnie Iskiwitch, a native of Poland, was a homemaker. Bindursky had three brothers. Shortly after her graduation from high school in 1922, she moved with her parents to Lepanto (Poinsett County). As a young woman, she played the piano for silent movies in the Lepanto movie theater. When the devastating …

Birth Control Movement

aka: Family Planning Movement
In Arkansas, early marriage and the need for farm labor had long encouraged large families. In addition, federal and state laws had restricted access to contraceptives since the late nineteenth century. These challenges did not, however, prevent women from using herbs, withdrawal-based, or “black market” birth control to exercise some measure of reproductive control. In the 1940s, attempting to address poverty and inspired by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s (PPFA) policy agenda, Hilda K. Cornish of the Planned Parenthood Association of Arkansas and her allies campaigned for the inclusion of birth control services in Arkansas’s public health system. In 1940, Cornish, the Arkansas Medical Society (AMS), and state board of health members discussed plans for public health birth control …

Bittick, Helen Long

Helen Marie Long Bittick was an artist of the “primitive folk style,” meaning that she had no academic art training but developed her own unschooled, unique patterns of portraying her subjects. Helen Long was born on June 24, 1918, to Bette Ann Mangum and William Monroe Long on the Judge Level Farm between Washington (Hempstead County) and Hope (Hempstead County); she had three siblings. Her father ran a restaurant in Hope and farmed in McCaskill (Hempstead County). Long attended Brookwood School in Hope, the three-room schoolhouse in Friendship, and schools in McCaskill and Blevins (all in Hempstead County). She did not graduate from high school. She married Cloid Sykes Bittick on November 12, 1933, in Bingen (Hempstead County). They had …

Blackmon, Anita

aka: Anita Blackmon Smith
Anita Blackmon Smith was a prolific mystery author who wrote more than 1,000 short stories and several novels. She is most known for her contributions to the mystery genre’s “Had I But Known” school, a foreshadowing technique in which a character expresses regret over failing to recognize a sign portending larger, often deadly, consequences. Anita Blackmon was born in Augusta (Woodruff County) on December 1, 1892, to Edwin E. Blackmon, who was postmaster and later town mayor, and Eva Hutchinson Blackmon, principal of Augusta Public School. Blackmon graduated from high school when she was fourteen years old. She attended Ouachita College (now Ouachita Baptist University) and then the University of Chicago. Afterward, she taught Latin, German, and French in a …

Blair, Diane Frances Divers Kincaid

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 …

Blaisdell, Frances Lillian (F.L.)

Frances Lillian (F. L.) Blaisdell, a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businesswoman, was Arkansas’s first published woman cartographer and one of the first woman map makers in the nation. Shortly before her death in 1924, she became the first woman to serve on the Pulaski County Board of Equalization. Her maps and her atlas of Arkansas were widely distributed. F. L. Blaisdell was born in Augusta, Georgia, in January 1884, the only child of civil engineer, architect, and pioneer landscape architect Frank M. Blaisdell and his wife, Belle Burr Brace Blaisdell. From an early age, Blaisdell was fascinated with her father’s work in designing city parks and other landscapes. She was especially fascinated by surveying and map making. The family moved …

Block, Frances Isaiah Isaacs (Fanny)

Frances (Fanny) Block was the matriarch of the first documented Jewish family to immigrate to what became the state of Arkansas. After courtship and the start of a family in Virginia and New York, Block and her family moved to southwestern Arkansas in search of new economic opportunities. Her willingness to forgo the stability of a religious community on the East Coast and move her family west allowed the family to establish a regional mercantile empire that included businesses in places such as Washington (Hempstead County), Fulton (Hempstead County), and Paraclifta (Sevier County) in Arkansas, as well as in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at several stops along the railroad in Texas from Houston to Dallas. Fanny Block and her family …

Blount, Lisa Suzanne

Lisa Blount was an actress who appeared in numerous films and television shows, most notably as Lynette Pomeroy in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Along with her husband, actor Ray McKinnon, she received an Academy Award for the 2002 short film The Accountant. Lisa Suzanne Blount was born on July 1, 1957, in Fayetteville (Washington County) to Glen Roscoe Blount and Louise Martin Blount, natives of Floral (Independence County); she had one brother, Greg. The family moved to Jacksonville (Pulaski County). Blount graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1975 and attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, beginning classes there when she was sixteen; she left UA before …

Bond, Barbara Ann Higgins

aka: Barbara Higgins Bond
Barbara Ann Higgins Bond—whose professional name is Higgins Bond—is a nationally recognized illustrator and commercial artist whose most important works have concerned the history and struggles of African Americans. A pioneer freelance artist since the early 1970s, she has designed and illustrated cultural heritage stamps published by the U.S. Postal Service and the United Nations. Her art has been exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the DuSable Museum of African American History, and she is a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. Barbara Ann Higgins was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 14, 1951, the daughter of Henry Drew Higgins and Edna Washington Higgins. She grew up in Little Rock in a home on …

Bonslagel, Constance Josephine (Connie)

Constance Josephine (Connie) Bonslagel served as state home demonstration agent from 1917 until her death in 1950, except for an eighteen-month period during the 1930s in which she served as assistant director of the Rehabilitation Division of the Federal Resettlement Administration (FRA). She pioneered the women’s part of that program, setting up home economics programs in most of the states. Connie J. Bonslagel was born in Deasonville, Mississippi, on August 14, 1885, the daughter of A. W. Bonslagel and Betty Beall Bonslagel. She had one sister and one brother. Bonslagel, who never married, graduated from Mississippi State College for Women and pursued postgraduate work at Peabody College, Tulane University, and Columbia University Teachers College. Beginning in 1915, Bonslagel served as an …

Bosmyer, Peggy Sue

When the Reverend Dr. Peggy Bosmyer was ordained in January 1977 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by the Right Reverend Christoph Keller Jr., bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas, she was the first woman in the South to be regularly ordained under a new canon as a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA). Peggy Sue Bosmyer was born on July 26, 1948, in Helena (Phillips County), the daughter of Thomas Bosmyer, who was an insurance adjustor, and Margaret Markland Bosmyer, an elementary school teacher. Her older sister, Judy, had been born in 1944. Bosmyer graduated from Central High School in Helena in 1966. In 1970, she received a BA in …

Boston, Gretha Denise

Gretha Denise Boston is a celebrated mezzo-soprano and Tony Award–winning actress. She made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1991 in Mozart’s Coronation Mass and won the 1995 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Queenie in the Broadway revival of Show Boat; she was the first Arkansan to be so honored. The same role earned Boston the Theatre World Award as Outstanding Debut Artist. She was also nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production for the 2000–01 season at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for her performance in It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. Gretha Boston was born in Crossett (Ashley County) on April 18, 1959, the …

Branscum, Robbie Tilley

Robbie Tilley Branscum gained fame as the award-winning author of books for older children. Her hardscrabble childhood in Arkansas provided the vivid, rustic backdrop for each of her many books. Robbie Branscum was born Robbie Nell Tilley in Big Flat (Baxter County) on June 17, 1934, the third of five children born into a poor family. When she was five, the family moved to Colorado in search of a better life. Her father, Donnie Tilley, worked briefly in timber before dying of appendicitis shortly after the move. Her mother, Blanche, took the children to live with their paternal grandparents near Big Flat and returned to Colorado alone. Tilley’s grandparents were poor sharecroppers who had previously raised ten children of their …

Brewer, Vivion Mercer Lenon

Vivion Mercer Lenon Brewer is best known for helping to found the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) in 1958 during the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She helped arrange the WEC’s initial meeting and served as the organization’s first chairperson until September 1960. Vivion Lenon was born on October 6, 1900, in Little Rock to Warren E. and Clara (Mercer) Lenon. She graduated from Little Rock High School (now Central High) in 1917 and attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she majored in sociology and graduated in 1921. In 1926, she enrolled in the Arkansas Law School in Little Rock and worked in her father’s bank, People’s Savings Bank, in Little …

Brickell, Beth

Beth Brickell is an actor, producer, and writer with many stage and screen credits, and is especially known for her leading role on the television series Gentle Ben. She has also engaged in film production and investigative journalism, the latter relating to the 1957 disappearance of Maud Crawford. Beth Brickell was born on November 13, 1936, in Brinkley (Monroe County) and was raised in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Camden (Ouachita County). She graduated from Camden High School in 1954, and then attended Arkansas State Teachers College (today’s University of Central Arkansas) in Conway (Faulkner County) and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she majored in history and political science. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree …

brigham, besmilr moore

aka: Bess Miller Moore
Besmilr Moore Brigham was an award-winning poet and short-story writer who lived in Arkansas for decades. She came to prominence during the women’s movement of the 1960s, and her work is noted for its innovative structure, sound, and rhythm. Like poet e. e. cummings, she used a lower-case version of her name for her published works. Bess Miller Moore was born on September 28, 1913, in Pace, Mississippi. Her grandfather was Choctaw. She later changed her name to the more phonetic spelling “Besmilr.” She graduated from Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Texas and later studied at the New School for Social Research in New York, where she met and married Roy Brigham, who worked for a newspaper. Brigham’s poems have been …

Britt, Terri Utley Amos

Terri Britt, who was Terri Utley at the time, was named Miss Arkansas USA in 1982, going on to win the title of 1982’s Miss USA and compete in the Miss Universe pageant, in which she was a finalist. She remains the only Miss USA to come from Arkansas. When Elizabeth Ward, who was Miss Arkansas, was named Miss America in 1982, it became the only time both Miss America and Miss Universe titleholders were from the same state in the same year. After a career in the entertainment industry, Britt went on to become a successful motivational speaker and author. Terri Lea Utley was born on January 1, 1961. In her hometown of Cabot (Lonoke County), she was involved …

Brooks, Ida Josephine

Ida Josephine Brooks was a teacher and early school administrator in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She was among Arkansas’s earliest women physicians and the first female faculty member at the University of Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences). She also took an active role in advocating for women’s rights. Ida Joe Brooks, the fourth of six children, was born at Muscatine, Iowa, on April 28, 1853, to Methodist minister Joseph Brooks and Elizabeth Goodenough Brooks. Brooks’s father was a candidate for governor in Arkansas in 1872 against Elisha Baxter. Both candidates claimed victory, precipitating the Brooks-Baxter War, with Brooks the loser. Little is known of Ida Joe Brooks’s childhood education. She graduated from Central High …

Brooks, Millie Muriel Ward

Millie Muriel Ward Brooks was a long-time alderman in Wrightsville (Pulaski County). The new Wrightsville branch library of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) was named for her in 2013. Millie Muriel Ward was born on August 27, 1932, to Theodore Ward and Claudia B. Smith Ward, and she and her siblings lived with their parents in Wrightsville. She married Julius James Brooks Sr., and they had two children, Shanon and Tena. Millie Brooks entered politics later in life than is customary, besting two opponents to become Ward 2, Position 1 Wrightsville alderman in 1992. She apparently faced no other opponents for reelection during her tenure, and she died while in office on July 9, 2005. Her daughter Tena Brooks …

Brown, Evangeline Katherine

Evangeline Katherine Johnson Brown was a longtime educator and activist in the Arkansas Delta who served as a plaintiff and witness in Jeffers v. Clinton, a lawsuit that helped create new majority black districts for the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Arkansas Senate. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1994. Evangeline Katherine Johnson was born in Norwood, East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, on February 23, 1909, the fourth child of James M. Johnson and Mamie C. Gilmore Johnson. Her father was a farmer who owned the family’s farm (with a mortgage). It was fairly uncommon for area families to own their farms at that time. The family frequently moved, and Johnson attended high schools in …

Brown, Helen Marie Gurley

Helen Gurley Brown was a native Arkansan whose career includes landmark achievements in advertising and publishing. She was considered a spokesperson for the women’s liberation movement and sexual revolution in the mid-twentieth century as author of the bestselling book Sex and the Single Girl (1962) and editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine. Helen Marie Gurley was born on February 18, 1922, in Green Forest (Carroll County) to a family of modest means. Her father, Ira Gurley, finished law school in 1923 and was soon elected a state legislator. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and settled in the Pulaski Heights neighborhood. In 1932, as her father was preparing to run for Arkansas secretary of state, he was killed in an elevator …

Bumpers, Betty

Betty Bumpers, wife of former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator Dale Bumpers, was known for her far-reaching efforts to promote childhood immunizations and world peace. Betty Lou Flanagan was born on January 11, 1925, to Herman “Babe” Flanagan and Ola Callan Flanagan in Grand Prairie (Franklin County). Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a cattle farmer and auctioneer. The family moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) during World War II, and later to Iowa before returning to Franklin County. She attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, the University of Iowa, and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Flanagan married Dale Bumpers on September 4, 1949, while he was attending law school at Northwestern …

Burks, Ruth Coker

Ruth Burks is an Arkansas woman who, in the midst of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, provided support for dozens of men who were dying of AIDS—men who were often abandoned by their families, with even some health professionals being reluctant to treat them. Burks treated the men with dignity and compassion that eased the pain, physical and emotional, that marked their final days. She also ensured that they would have a proper final resting place, providing for the burial of dozens of men in Files Cemetery. Frances Ruth Coker was born in Hot Springs (Garland County) on March 19, 1959, to James Isham Coker and Aline Lawlor Coker. Her father, who was almost twenty years older than her mother, served …