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Bettye Caldwell, 1925–2016
April 20, 2016
A teacher of young children, more than anything else, must be able to love children unconditionally, to be able to communicate to them, without any patronizing and without any strings attached, that she is their friend—for friendship, it must be understood, is just another word for love.
-Ashley Montagu (1905-1999), anthropologist

Bettye Caldwell, one of the most influential pioneers in early childhood education, died on Monday, April 18.  A memorial service will held on Monday, April 25, at the First United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Bettye was always a great friend of the magazine, always cheerleading and supporting us, writing for us, and sending ideas our way.  Most recently, at the age of 90, she served as one of the esteemed reviewers when Exchange recognized emerging leaders in our field.

Bettye has been described as "a woman ahead of her time — usually about 30 years!"  This pioneering spirit was displayed early on when, at Baylor University, she was a member of the band baton team —the first in the country to employ fire batons.

She was also one of the first researchers to be aware of the implications of child care, when 50 years ago she wrote, "It is a ‘sleeping giant’ just ready to awaken and move around, jolting many of us into awareness.”  At Syracuse University Bettye, along with her sidekick Alice Honig, designed an initiative integrating health and school readiness programs for low-income preschoolers: the Children's Center, which would become a model for the Head Start program.

Through their research, Bettye and Alice were keenly aware that most infants developed at the same pace for about the first year.  At that point, intellectual and social growth advanced or receded based on the atmosphere surrounding children.

“What do they need?” Caldwell asked.  “They need to be loved.  They need to be spoken to, all the time.  They need opportunities to explore.  They need to be safe and to feel safe.  They need stable figures in their lives.  They need new experiences.  They need to repeat experiences they enjoy.  They need someone to interpret their new experiences in the world, verbally.  They need someone to help them find words for what they see in the world.  They need an opportunity to feel love and to feel part of a family.  Their wants are fairly simple, and these are needs we’d like to think would be met for every child.”

Later, Bettye moved to the University of Arkansas – Little Rock, where she established an early education project at Kramer School, which served children from preschool through age 12.  Kramer School provided a base for her continuing research on children and families.

Over her long and distinguished career, Bettye earned many honors including being elected President of NAEYC.  She was named the Ladies Home Journal "Woman of the Year" in 1978 and was honored at a ceremony joined by Betty Furness, Maya Angelou, Kate Smith, and Betty Ford.  Her far-reaching contributions to the well-being of children and their families was recognized in 2001 when she received one the most coveted honors in her field, the Dolly Madison Award, whose past recipients include Dr. Benjamin Spock and Edward Ziegler.

Bettye continued her commitment to the field into her 90's.  She once wrote to President Obama, “If there’s anything an 88-year-old woman who has trouble walking can do to help, I’m here.”

We all owe Bettye a deep debt of gratitude.


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Comments (17)

Displaying 5 of 17 Comments   [ View all ]
kelly caldwell · April 21, 2016
Fairbanks, Alaska, United States

truly an inspiration for us all

Robin Levin · April 21, 2016
Emerald Hills School
Hollywood , Florida , United States

Very sad news! My condolences to Bettye's family and friends! She has been an inspiration to all of us in the education field working with young children!
She's been a wonderful mentor and leader!
We'll miss her!

Anne Kennedy · April 21, 2016
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Bettye Caldwell's work and wisdom is also well known and valued in Australia. You know the impact of a person's contribution to early childhood education and care when their ideas and words still resonate with us and continue to offer powerful insights into our work with children, families and communities.

Vishakha Deshpande · April 20, 2016
Gokul kidz preschools pvt ltd
Thane, Maharashtra, India

Sad news indeed! May her soul rest in peace.

Marcia Pioppi Galazzi · April 20, 2016
The Family Schools Inc.
Brewster, Ma. 02631, United States

Bettye helped join our work of loving and teaching young children to the gravitas of the medical community. In so doing she helped us all to a significant measure of self respect and a move away from being seen as a non professional child minder. I will always appreciate her easy availability for a good chat. She will be missed.

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