Bessie Grace Boehm Moore was an educator, civic leader, and force of nature, advocating for a robust library system in Arkansas, economic education in public schools and the creation of the Ozark Folk Center State Park.
Born on Aug. 2, 1902, her mother died in childbirth and Bessie was sent to live with an aunt in Kentucky. Her father later remarried, and they moved to northern Arkansas, where she continued to attend school in Mountain View. At age 14, Bessie passed the teacher’s exam and was hired in Stone County by the school board. Moore retained a fondness for the people of Stone County, who welcomed her family as homesteaders.
She was instrumental in creating the first county library in Pine Bluff, and also worked to promote libraries on a national level. She served on the Arkansas Library Commission board from 1941 to 1979. In 1966, she was appointed to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Libraries by President Lyndon Johnson, where she stayed until 1988. Under her leadership, more than 50 public and regional libraries were established. In 1980, the American Library Association awarded her its highest honor.
Her life frequently centered around a classroom, as teacher or student. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in education from the Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) in Conway. After her husband’s death in 1958, she joined the Arkansas Department of Education, and in 1961, became the coordinator of economic education.
In 1959, she was recognized with the C.E. Palmer Distinguished Service Award, given to the citizen of Arkansas who gave the finest service to the state the preceding year. She was the first woman to receive this award. Other winners have included the late Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and Senator J. William Fulbright.
When the Arkansas State Council of Economic Education was founded in 1962, she was executive director. This organization later became Economics Arkansas, and has taught more than 85,000 teachers how to integrate economic and personal finance concepts into curriculum, impacting more than 4 million students. In 1963, she was the first woman to be invited to address a session of the Southern Governors’ Conference.
The Center for Economic Education at the University of Arkansas was renamed in her honor in 1979. The Stone County Library also bears her name, as well as the largest meeting room in the Arkansas State Library at 900 W. Capitol Ave.