Bettye Caldwell

Bettye McDonald Caldwell (December 24, 1924 – April 17, 2016) was an American educator and academic who influenced the development of Head Start. She was the 1993 recipient of the Society for Research in Child Development's Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children.[1]

Bettye Caldwell
Born(1924-12-24)December 24, 1924
DiedApril 16, 2016(2016-04-16) (aged 91)
OccupationProfessor of Education
Known forSRCD Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children
ChildrenPaul Caldwell and Elizabeth Lawson
Academic work
Notable ideasHead Start


Caldwell was born in Smithville, Texas, to Thomas and Juanita McDonald. Her family was poor, as her father was a railroad engineer who lost his job when Caldwell was young. After graduating first in her high school class, Caldwell attended Baylor University, where she was a psychology and speech major. She earned a master's degree at the University of Iowa and a doctorate in psychology at Washington University.[2] After graduate school, Caldwell was on the faculty or staff of several universities, including Northwestern University, Washington University, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate.[3]

While at Syracuse, Caldwell worked with pediatrician Julius Richmond on child development studies. Finding that poor children trailed off developmentally after the age of one, they created a day care center for children six months to five years of age. As the first infant group day care, the center required a waiver from the state.[4] Caldwell felt that an emphasis on early childhood education could help to "level the playing field" for poor children before they started kindergarten.[5] In 1964, Caldwell and Richmond's work led to the establishment of the Head Start project under Lyndon B. Johnson. Richmond was the first director of the project.[4]

In the late 1960s, Caldwell moved to Arkansas. Working on the faculty of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, she established the Kramer Project, an initiative establishing a day care center associated with a Little Rock elementary school. Caldwell joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1974. The school made her Donaghey Distinguished Professor in 1978, the same year that she was one of Ladies' Home Journal's 10 Women of the Year. She was named to the faculty of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1993.[3]

She and her husband, Fred Caldwell, had two children, Paul Caldwell and Elizabeth Lawson. Fred Caldwell died in 2004. Bettye died in April 2016.[4]


  1. ^ "SRCD Awards History" (PDF). Society for Research in Child Development. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-06-02. Retrieved 2017-03-25.
  2. ^ Bradley, Robert; Brisby, Judy (1993). "SRCD Oral History Project: Bettye Caldwell" (PDF). Society for Research in Child Development.
  3. ^ a b Bowden, Bill (April 19, 2016). "Child expert, Head Start influencer Caldwell dies". Arkansas Online. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Roberts, Sam (April 22, 2016). "Bettye Caldwell, educator who helped pave way for Head Start, dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  5. ^ McMahon, Julie (April 21, 2016). "Bettye Caldwell, Syracuse professor who pioneered Head Start, dies". Retrieved April 25, 2016.