Spotlight On: Diane D. Blair, Remembered for Her Impact on Arkansas and Beyond

by | Oct 20, 2019 | Alumni, Dean's Spotlight, Faces of Fulbright, In Memoriam

The University of Arkansas’ Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society’s namesake and J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences alumna and professor of political science Diane Divers Blair is remembered by many for her work on behalf of women and education, not only in the state of Arkansas, but across the country.

All photos in this story were provided by the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections.

Blair, who would have turned 81 years old on October 25, was a pioneer and tireless advocate for women and education during a time when women were often barred from even being faculty members.

“She was an advisor to several governors and the President of the United States on issues specifically designed to elevate the lives of women and to improve education, which she believed would be the way for women to achieve equality and improve their lives,” said associate professor Angie Maxwell, director of the Blair Center and fellow U of A alumnus.

Blair also taught courses in national government, state and local government, Arkansas politics and politics in literature.

“During her time as a professor, she was not only the mentor to thousands of students, but quickly became one of the most beloved and sought-after faculty members on campus,” said Maxwell, who also holds the university’s Diane Blair Endowed Professorship in Southern Studies.

Despite her premature death in 2000, Maxwell said that Blair’s legacy continues, in particular when it comes to championing political activism across the country. 

Blair’s Legacy

Blair was also deeply committed to her community, which was demonstrated through her various acts of public service. Blair served on the executive council of the American Political Science Association Section on Women and Politics from 1989 to 1991 and the Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession from 1984 to 1988.

Additionally, in 1971 Blair was appointed chair of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women and in 1976 she was appointed to serve as chair of a Commission on Public Employee Rights. She was especially proud of her long service on the Commission for the Arkansas Educational Television Network, and her service as a U.S. Senate-confirmed member of the Board for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

With a passion for and strong interest in women in politics, Blair’s first book, Silent Hattie Speaks, The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway, was published in 1979. She went on to have her second book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule? published in 1988, which now serves as a textbook in many universities.

Blair is the author of two books, and the author of 12 chapters in edited books, 21 refereed journal articles, 33 book reviews and reports, and completed over 30 presentations at national professional conferences, as well as had numerous research and writing responsibilities for Arkansas Governors Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker.

Among her notable contributions to public policy is being among one of the first to develop a report card regularly presented to the governor advocating for how, when, and where to improve the lives of women in Arkansas. These reports are now regular aspects of contemporary state politics and policy discussion.

“Diane Blair was a true powerhouse and it is difficult to overstate just what a remarkable impact she had on her students, our state and in the field of political science,” said Todd Shields, dean of Fulbright College.

Shields is also a political science professor and was the Blair Center’s founding director. “The numerous recognitions, honors and awards that bear Diane’s name speak to the vast difference she made in the lives of so many.”

Notably, Blair received the Fulbright College Master Teacher Award in 1982 and was selected by students as “Outstanding Faculty Member” in 1976 and 1978.

Shields said that Blair’s legacy also continues through her namesake center, which was established in 2001 with a $3 million U.S. Congressional appropriation that was put into an endowment.

Today, the Blair Center continues to support and promote the critical, interdisciplinary study of the general politics, identity politics and culture of the American South’s past and present.

The center also funds fellowships, research and policy reports. One of its key projects is the Blair Center Poll, which was last conducted immediately following the November 2016 presidential elections. It is the only national academic survey with a specific focus on the South, as well as African Americans and Latinos both inside of the South and across the country.

Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame

In August, Blair was one of seven individuals and one organization formally inducted into the fifth annual group of Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame inductees, honoring women whose contributions have influenced the direction of Arkansas in their community or state.

New members are inducted each year and can include pioneers, philanthropists, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, business leaders and political figures.

Blair, who was nominated for the award by Maxwell, was recognized as an educator, public servant, political scientist and writer in her inductee profile.

Another Fulbright College alumna, Jo Luck, was also inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame this year. Luck received her Doctor of Arts and Humanities from Fulbright College in 2006.

She served as the president and CEO of Heifer Project International, leading the organization’s global program and helping to expand programs and projects that have provided food security to impoverished people in the U.S. and more than 50 countries around the world, according to her inductee profile. 

More information on the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame can be found on their website.

About the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences: The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the largest and most academically diverse unit on campus with three schools, 16 departments and 43 academic programs and research centers. The college provides the core curriculum for all University of Arkansas students and is named for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator.


Olivia Chivers

Communications Project Manager
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences

479-575-2130 //