Women Collaborate by Rosalind Fisher
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. When I heard about the rising threat to children this epidemic poses, I wondered what Betty Bumpers would say. Who was Betty Bumpers?
After her husband became governor of Arkansas in 1971, Betty Flanagan Bumpers, focused her energy on issues important to families and children. This former first lady of Arkansas, led the first statewide immunization program in Arkansas for childhood immunization. She brought Arkansas 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 Rosalind 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 wellbeing 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.
Because of Betty Bumpers’ and Rosalind Carter’s leadership on promoting childhood immunizations and AIDS vaccine research, President Clinton dedicated the new Vaccine Research Center (VRC), under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in 1999. It was named for Dale and Betty Bumpers. Betty Bumpers died in November of 2018, but her words provide profound advice to those who will listen. She said, “This is a time in history when women's voices must be heard, or forever be silenced. It's not because we think better than men, but we think differently. It's not women against men, but women and men. It's not that the world would have been better if women had run it, but that the world will be better when we as women, who bring our own perspective, share in running it.”
IWP has listened and we are hosting a TEDTalk viewing party on May 23 to share with you more women whose thinking differently has or is making a profound difference in American and world leadership. Join us at 6 p.m. May 23 at the Hyatt Place Airport Hotel to watch and discuss women who lead collaboratively.
Rosalind Fisher is an Instructor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at the University of West Florida and a member of the IWP Board of Directors. To inquire about events or membership in the Institute, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Pensacola News Journal for publishing this article.