About Bethine Church
Jean Bethine Clark was born on February 19, 1923, to Jean Burnett Clark and Chase Addison Clark in Mackay, Idaho. Bethine grew up in a politically active family; her uncle Barzilla served as Idaho governor; her cousin, D. Worth Clark, was both a U.S. representative and senator; and her father, Chase, served as mayor of Idaho Falls, Governor of Idaho from 1940-1942, and as a federal district judge appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt. As a high school student in Idaho Falls, Bethine was active in debate and student government, which continued after the Clark family moved to Boise in January 1941. Bethine befriended a young man named Frank Church during her school year at Boise High, and they stayed in touch after graduation.
Bethine attended Boise Junior College her freshman year, from 1941-1942, where she was elected freshman class vice president. As a sophomore, she enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, her father’s alma mater. She graduated with a B.A. in Sociology in 1945. Bethine and Frank dated on and off during this time while he was enrolled in the U.S. Army and kept in touch via letters. Frank became an intelligence officer and was stationed in China, Burma, and India. After returning from abroad, Frank proposed to Bethine while he was completing his degree at Stanford, and they announced their engagement in December 1946. They were married at Robinson Bar Ranch, the Clark family ranch in the Sawtooth Mountains, on June 21, 1947. Frank began Harvard Law School in September 1947, but after discovering he had cancer, transferred to Stanford Law School. During this time Bethine gave birth to their first child, Frank Forrester IV. After Frank finished at Stanford, they moved to Boise to practice law.
Frank Church ran on the Democratic ticket for U.S. Senate in 1956 and won by defeating incumbent Senator Herman Welker. The Church family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1957. That same year, they adopted a son, whom they named Chase. Frank Church was reelected to the Senate three times and served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He entered the Democratic primaries for President in 1976, but lost the nomination to Jimmy Carter. Throughout his time as senator, Bethine’s involvement in her husband's campaigns and active participation in public life earned her the informal title as "Idaho’s third senator." Besides actively campaigning for her husband four times for senator and once for president, Bethine discussed most issues that came across Frank’s desk with her husband. Bethine accompanied Frank on many of his trips around the world to meet with foreign leaders, as well as American cultural icons. Defeated for reelection in 1980, Senator Church was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died at the age of 59 four months later in April 1984. Bethine Church moved back to Boise in 1989.
Bethine Church has remained extremely active in local and national politics. She is founder and chair of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, which hosts annual public policy conferences and funds the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs. She was founder and first president of the Sawtooth Society, which supports the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Galena Overlook was renamed the Frank and Bethine Church Overlook for all their years of work on legislation protecting this area. Mrs. Church is still known as the matriarch of the Idaho Democratic Party and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention since 1994. She also sits on the governing board of the National Wilderness Society and helped establish the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise.
For more information about Bethine Church’s life, read her memoir, A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics, Washington, D.C: The Francis Press, 2003.
Collection note: This collection is made available online through the collaboration of Erin Passehl and Alan Virta in the Special Collections department.