Questions & answers with the author, Stephanie Bayless

Who is Adolphine Fletcher Terry?

Adolphine Fletcher Terry was the matron of an upper-class Little Rock family. College-educated at a time when it was not common for women, Terry wanted to use her knowledge and social position to better the life of Arkansans. She worked on a number of projects in Arkansas including the juvenile court, libraries, and the local school system. Terry and her husband, Congressman David Dickson Terry, raised five children together (four biological and one adopted), and their home, the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House, now serves as a community art gallery for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Why is she important to Southern history and, in particular, Arkansas history?

Adolphine Fletcher Terry was active in Arkansas for well over fifty years. Her projects with the Arkansas juvenile court, libraries, education, the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, and Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools during the Central High Crisis are discussed in this book, but she was also a driving force behind numerous clubs and organizations in support of local communities. Examples of organizations formed by or with the support of Terry include the College Club (later the local branch of the American Association of University Women), the first School Improvement Association in Arkansas (a forerunner of the Parent Teacher Association), the Little Rock Housing Authority, the Pulaski County Tuberculosis Association, and the Community Chest (a forerunner of the United Way).

What were some of the early influences in Terry's life?

When Terry was fifteen years old, she entered Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Terry credited her time at Vassar as a critical experience that altered the course of her life due to the influence of her classmates on her beliefs about race, class, and humanity. After leaving the challenging atmosphere of Vassar and returning to the South, Terry struggled with having to reenter an environment with limited choices. Terry then sought to expand her world by creating her own intellectual and social opportunities, eventually leading to the projects that left such an impact on Arkansas.

How did you first become interested in Terry?

When I was getting my master's degree, I was looking for a good topic to write my thesis on, and my advisor suggested Adolphine Terry as a possible topic. After that, I did a little digging around-looking through Terry's unpublished manuscript and the Fletcher-Terry Family Papers at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock-and I really became enthralled with Terry. The more I learned about Terry, the more I wanted to get her story out there. It did not take long for me to become committed to telling Terry's story to anyone willing to listen.

Would Terry be a good role model for women today?

Terry's story is an important one. She touched so many of our local institutions and really created change in a number of challenging situations and environments. It is important to remember that, even though we elevate people like Terry and focus only on their great deeds, in the end, they are regular people like the rest of us who face the same issues. I think everyone can find something in Terry to relate to. She was first and foremost passionate about the well-being of Arkansans. On the other side of that, she was devoted to her family and willing to make sacrifices for them. She dealt with her own struggles, including a life in politics and raising a handicapped child.

Did you find any surprises about her life as you worked on this book?

I was most surprised by the different impressions I got of Terry when reading her letters as compared to her manuscript. Let me explain. In her manuscript, Terry comes off as very reserved and buttoned up. At first glance, I really thought I was going to have to struggle to do all of the research I needed as I was bogged down in her papers. Reading her personal letters, however, opened me up to a whole new side of Terry. Her letters show the passionate, feisty, and proud woman Terry really was. I did not expect to find all of these different Terrys.

Is there one attribute that defines Terry?

Terry is best known for her work with the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC) during the Central High School Desegregation Crisis. She was one of the founding members of the organization dedicated to reopening the Little Rock high schools that closed after the first year of desegregation. Although the WEC was careful to present itself as working only for the reopening of the schools and not integration, Terry was not afraid to openly challenge racial inequalities in Arkansas. Her activities with the WEC are well-documented and in sharp contrast to some of her other, largely undocumented, activities.

What makes your book different from other information on Terry?

This is the first book of its kind written about Adolphine Fletcher Terry. She is well-known for some of her social activist work, but the best source about her life is actually an unpublished autobiographical manuscript she dictated shortly before her death. This isn't the kind of information you would learn from a typical history book, but it gives us a peek into the life of an important figure in Arkansas history. My book fills in the holes and gives the reader a fuller picture of Terry's role in Arkansas.

Where did you find the information for your book?

I started my research with an unpublished autobiographical manuscript dictated by Terry called Life Is My Song, Also. To fill in the holes from this manuscript, I did a lot of work in the Fletcher-Terry Family Papers at the University of Arkansas Archives and Special Collections, as well using the valuable resources at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and the Arkansas History Commission. Apart from these primary sources, I utilized the published work of other historians.

Was there anything about Terry that was difficult for you to write about?

I did not encounter any particularly uncomfortable or possibly divisive subjects while writing. But I would say that the most challenging topic I tackled was her work with the WEC. The Central High Crisis has been written about so many times and, even though I was presenting the information from a different viewpoint, it was tough to not feel like I was simply repeating the work of other authors before me. It was a challenge to successfully present all of the information I needed in the chapter while keeping it interesting to the reader.

Why did you choose to focus on her social activism rather than write a traditional biography?

When I originally started this work, my goal was to annotate her manuscript, Life is My Song, Also, with the final product being more like a traditional biography. In the end, time constraints caused me to reconsider my approach. A full-length biography of Terry would be a massive undertaking. I might like to do this in the future, but I believe it was most important to get the information about Terry's activism out to the public first.