Dr. Bettye Caldwell,
a giant among educators for her work in early childhood education, died today in Little Rock. She was 91. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church. Her death was confirmed to me by her nephew, City Attorney Tom Carpenter.

Caldwell was instrumental in the beginning of the national Head Start program. She co-founded a program at Syracuse University that inspired it.  In Little Rock, she established the early education project at Kramer School, which worked with children from daycare through age 12. The spirit of the project lives on in the early childhood program at Rockefeller school.  At age 88, she was still lobbying President Obama to do more in early childhood, as this article in a Syracuse newspaper recounts.

She was the Ladies Home Journal Woman of the Year in 1978, honored at a ceremony joined by  Betty Furness, Maya Angelou, Kate Smith and Betty Ford,.


Caldwell moved to Arkansas when her husband Fred, a surgeon and Ashdown native, relocated to UAMS.  UALR, where she was a distinguished professor of education, dedicated a classroom in her honor and hung a portrait on campus to commemorate her work in 2011. A news release then noted:

Caldwell was one of the first researchers to recognize the importance of mother-infant interaction in low-income populations.

“In 1964, few Americans had even let the term ‘day care’ register in their consciousness,” Caldwell has written. “But, as I have suggested in several articlesc, it was a ‘sleeping giant’ just ready to awaken and move around, jolting many of us into awareness.”

Carpenter provided a biographical footnote that should be great fun to those who knew and admired Caldwell, as I did. She was a distinguished alumna of Baylor University, where she met her future husband. Family lore has it that Caldwell was a member of the band baton team, the first in the country to employ fire batons.