Bess Bolden Walcott assumed a leadership role in academics as well as in a wide range of civic affairs: local, national and international. She spent the majority of her 101 years in Alabama. During her long tenure at Tuskegee Institute (1908-1962), she served in many capacities, including librarian, teacher, writer, editor, administrator, and curator. In addition to her distinguished academic service to one of Alabama's most historic institutions of higher learning, she served her state and nation through significant contributions to the American Red Cross. After establishing a Red Cross chapter at Tuskegee Institute, she went on to become the first black female Acting Field Director for the American Red Cross (1941-42). As Director of Public Relations at the Institute (1942-46), Walcott promoted the war effort, most notably through her press releases which chronicled the progress of the Tuskegee Airmen. She traveled and spoke extensively to promote the sale of War Bonds. Reappointed Acting Field Director (1946-47), it was her responsibility to help oversee the needs of returning veterans while continuing to help train Red Cross volunteers.
Walcott helped conserve Tuskegee Institute's unique historical legacy by serving as curator for the Carver Museum (1951-1962). The Carver Museum eventually became part of a national park site that brings countless visitors to the state of Alabama. Her pioneering work in gathering and conserving materials of historic and artistic significance, including Carver's correspondence and artwork, helped preserve and document the pivotal role Tuskegee has played in Alabama's and the nation's history. Her contributions helped pave the way for the Tuskegee Institute's recognition as a National Historic Site in 1965. She gave significant support to the National Park Service's restoration of The Oaks, the home of Booker T. Washington.
At various times in her career, Walcott taught English and Literature. She was founder and editor of two of the main campus publications. In 1936, she served as chairman of the 40th anniversary celebration committee of Dr. Carver's work at Tuskegee. Because of her stewardship, the Carver Museum eventually become part of a national park site that draws countless visitors to the state of Alabama.
Throughout her long and productive life, Walcott was always concerned about the well-being of the community. She served as Executive Secretary of both the Tuskegee Institute Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (1940-1950) and the Mental Hygiene Society (1940-1951). The establishment of a Mental Health Clinic in Tuskegee was a direct outgrowth of the Mental Hygiene Society. In 1962, she was elected the National Vice President of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom and represented America as a delegate in San Francisco, California.
Married to a Tuskegee Institute professor, William H. Walcott, the couple had four children. Bess Bolden Walcott died not long before her 102nd birthday. Her long life of accomplishment and service provides an inspiring example for future generations.
Alabama Women's Hall of Fame