Who was Betty Bumpers?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) we are in one of the worst periods of measles epidemics since the measles vaccination program was first introduced in 1963, mainly because of the unvaccinated. Prior to the development of a national immunization program 3 to 4 million people got measles annually in the United States and hundreds died from it each year. Betty Bumpers led the first statewide immunization program back then.

This former first lady of Arkansas brought her state from a record of being one of the lowest states in immunization to a state that became a model used by the CDC for immunization programs across America, and soon she was helping other states develop immunization programs to prevent childhood diseases.

Betty Bumpers did not stop there. She contacted President Jimmy Carter and informed him about the national deficit in immunizations and asked him to improve the situation. The resulting collaboration between Betty Bumpers and First Lady Rosalynn Carter led to the launching of the first federal initiative in comprehensive childhood immunization in 1977.

In response to the 1989-1991 measles epidemic, Betty Bumpers and Rosalynn Carter founded Every Child by Two to ensure that all children in America are vaccinated by age two against preventable childhood diseases and that states developed immunization registries.

 When her husband became a U.S. Senator, Betty Bumpers with the support of other congressional wives founded Peace Links believing that ordinary American women could develop lasting relationships with women in the Soviet Union based on a shared concern for the well-being of children and families. This was during a time when U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union was hostile enough for President Reagan to approve expanded nuclear arms production.

Bumpers led Peace Links and launched the national headquarters in Washington DC with the collaboration of friend and civil rights activist Sara Murphy. Peace Links organized forums on peace-related issues, orchestrated rallies across the country, developed educational materials for parents and educators on peace, held voter participation activities, and established cultural exchanges for Soviet women. Peace Links, which included over 200 gubernatorial and congressional women and global women leaders, worked to educate communities about peace, the value of cultural diversity, non-violent conflict resolution, global cooperation, citizen diplomacy, violence prevention, and peacebuilding.

Barbara Rackes
President, SC Women in Leadership