by Stephanie Bayless

Champion of Underprivileged Honored in New Biography

Adolphine Fletcher Terry never held public office, but some historians posit that she had a greater and more positive impact on Arkansas and the South than most elected officials.

Terry's life and achievements now are celebrated in a new book: Obliged to Help: Adolphine Fletcher Terry and the Progressive South by Stephanie Bayless (Butler Center Books). This illuminating look at Terry's life and accomplishments examines why this Southern aristocratic matron, the daughter of a Confederate soldier, tirelessly devoted herself to improving the lives of others and, in so doing, became a model for activism across the South. "Years after her death, Terry continues to be an inspiration for many," notes Bob Razer, editor of the Pulaski County [Arkansas] Historical Society Review. "She was active in education, health care, the arts, mental health, public libraries and with programs offering assistance to people hit hard by the Great Depression."

In 1958, Terry was a founding member of the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) during the desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock. Although the WEC was careful to present itself as working only for the reopening of the schools and not for integration, Terry herself openly challenged racial inequalities in Arkansas. Noted Arkansas newspaperman Harry Ashmore once said this of Terry, "Her operating assumption is that most of us, black or white, are better than we usually have a chance to be."

A number of factors spurred Terry's extraordinary activism, which she initially undertook as a young woman as a duty of her privileged status and also as a way to avoid boredom. These efforts later evolved into a consuming interest in the well-being of those around her. As Terry herself noted: "We are bound to accept this responsibility. . . . We are obliged to help them."

Adolphine Fletcher Terry died in Little Rock, Arkansas, on July 25, 1976, at the age of 93. Her life was a monument to progress in the South, particularly in her native state of Arkansas, a place she once described as "holy ground."

150 pages, 18 photos, index, 6" x 9"
$22.50 hardcover $14.95 paper | ISBN 978-1935106-32-6