Bettye MacDonald Caldwell, a former Syracuse University professor whose early childhood development research led to the nation’s creation of Head Start, passed away Sunday in Arkansas, at the age of 91.
Caldwell’s son, Paul Caldwell, said she’d likely died from heart disease.
According to SU’s website, Caldwell chaired the Department of Child and Family Studies, and worked for more than five decades in comprehensive early childhood development programming at the school, primarily serving low-income preschool-age children and their families.
She also worked closely with Julius Richmond in 1967, the then-chairman of pediatrics at Upstate University, to form the first early intervention program in the country, the Children’s Center in Syracuse.
“Dr. Bettye Caldwell was a true pioneer in her field,” Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of the school’s Falk College, stated. “Syracuse University is so very proud of her lifetime dedication focused on putting the best interests of children first, and providing countless individuals and families the tools they needed to do the same. We are forever grateful that her commitment touched our campus, and community, so deeply in the time she and her family spent in Syracuse.”
Caldwell relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1969 with her family, and served on the faculty of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock for many years. In Little Rock, she also established the early education project at Kramer School.
According to Syracuse’s Post Standard, Caldwell said in a 2013 article that a lack of mother-child interaction often affected kids’ cognitive development.
“What do they need? They need to be loved,” she stated. “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.”
Caldwell is survived by two children, two granddaughters, and a sister, as well as additional friends and relatives.