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Fri, 11.29.1940

Thelma Mothershed, Arkansas Activist, and Educator born

Thelma Mothershed

*Thelma Mothershed was born on this date in 1940. She is a Black educator and member of the Little Rock Nine.

Thelma Jean Mothershed Wair was born in Bloomberg, Texas, to Arlevis Leander Mothershed and Hosanna Claire Moore Mothershed.  Her father was a psychiatric aid at the Veterans Hospital, and her mother was a homemaker. She has three sisters and two brothers. Mothershed attended Dunbar Junior High School and Horace Mann High School before transferring to Central High in Little Rock.

Despite daily torment from some white students at Central High, she completed her junior year at the formerly all-white high school in 1957. Because the city’s high schools were closed the following year, Mothershed earned the necessary credits for graduation through correspondence courses and by attending summer school in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her diploma from Central High by mail.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded her and the other Little Rock Nine, along with Daisy Bates, the Spingarn Medal in 1958. Mothershed graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1964 with a BA in home economics—mothershed married Fred Wair on December 26, 1965. The couple has one son.  She earned her MS in Guidance and Counseling Education in 1970; in 1985, she received an administrative certificate in education from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

She taught home economics in the East St. Louis school system for twenty-eight years before retiring in 1994. Wair has also worked at the Juvenile Detention Center of the St. Clair County Jail in St. Clair County, Illinois, as an instructor of survival skills for women at the American Red Cross Shelter for the homeless. In 1989, the East St. Louis chapter of the Top Ladies of Distinction and the early childhood/pre-kindergarten staff of District 189 honored her as an Outstanding Role Model.

In 1999, President Clinton presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the Little Rock Nine. Wair currently lives in Little Rock.

To Become a Teacher


Encyclopedia of

Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986.
Beals, Melba Pattillo. Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Desegregate Little Rock’s Central High School. New York: Washington Square Books, 1994.
Jacoway, Elizabeth, and C. Fred Williams, eds. Understanding the Little Rock Crisis: An Exercise in Remembrance and Reconciliation. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center. Little Rock, Arkansas. (accessed April 18, 2006).
Roy, Beth. Bitters in the Honey: Tales of Hope and Disappointment across Divides of Race and Time. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

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