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Gressie Umsted Carnes was active in state and national politics as a member of the Democratic Party. She also played major roles in promoting Easter Seals and Girl Scouts in Arkansas.
Gressie Umsted was born on August 9, 1903, in Bernice, Louisiana, to Edna Sedalia Edwards Umsted and Sidney Albert Umsted. She had twin sisters, Audrey and Aubrey, and a brother who died in infancy. Her family moved to Arkansas in the early 1920s.
Umsted graduated from high school in El Dorado (Union County) and attended Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia (Clark County) and Gulf Park College in Gulfport, Mississippi. She was working on a BA in music but did not finish, leaving school after her father died from injuries sustained in a train wreck.
She married Samuel Jacob “Jack” Carnes on May 20, 1926, at the Umsted home in Camden (Ouachita County). They had one adopted child, Sidney Carnes, who died in a car wreck at twenty years of age in 1946. Samuel Carnes was a businessman in Camden and the founder of Camark Pottery. Gressie Carnes was able to use her position as the wife of a prominent businessman to further her interests in politics, the Girl Scouts, and helping handicapped children.
Carnes played a major role in the campaigns of many Democratic local, state, and national leaders by raising money. She was active in the national Democratic Party and was elected the National Democratic Committeewoman from Arkansas in 1944 until her death in 1979.
Carnes was known for the lavish parties she hosted for those in high political circles in Washington DC and in Arkansas. She promoted Democratic Women in Arkansas and nationally and helped organize chapters of the Young Democrats. She actively boosted the careers of many public officials, notably the career of Arkansas governor and United States Senator David H. Pryor, a Camden native who delivered groceries to her home as a youngster. She attended the first inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and was honored by succeeding Democratic presidents for her devotion and support of the party.
Carnes’s favorite charitable cause was helping handicapped children; she worked to raise money for Easter Seals. As president of the Arkansas Crippled Children’s Hospital Board, she was the prime fundraiser for the establishment of the first convalescent center in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She recruited local orthopedic surgeons to volunteer their services and served as first vice president of the National Crippled Children and Adult Board.
Carnes’s work for the Girl Scouts in Arkansas helped to expand the Girl Scouts from only two troops in Camden and Fayetteville (Washington County) to the point that the majority of towns in Arkansas had at least one troop during her active years.
Carnes died on June 15, 1979, and is buried in the Umsted Mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in Camden.
For additional information: McKelvy, Billy Ray, and Edward Parham. “Rites for Mrs. Carnes are scheduled for today.” The Camden News. June 16, 1979, p. 1.
Betty Becker WaltLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 9/29/2009
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