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Susan Hampton Newton Pryor was the first woman in Arkansas to run for a political office after women obtained the vote and was one of the first women to hold a seat on a local school board. She also participated in one of the first historic preservation projects in the state, was the mother of David Pryor (who served as governor of Arkansas and U.S. senator), and was the grandmother of Mark Pryor (who served as Arkansas’s attorney general and was elected U.S. senator in 2002).
Susie Newton was born in Camden (Ouachita County) on November 9, 1900, to Robert D. and Cornelia Ellen Newton. Her father owned the Camden Shingle Mill and was the sheriff of Ouachita County.
After graduation from Camden High School in 1918, Pryor enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). However, she withdrew in February 1919 and returned to Camden when her mother became ill. Later, she learned typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping at a business school in Hot Springs (Garland County) and went to work at the Stout Lumber Company in Thornton (Calhoun County). Before being appointed as a deputy circuit clerk of Ouachita County in 1924, Pryor also was employed by the South Arkansas Grocery Company and by the Gaughan and Stifford law firm. In 1926, she became the first woman to run for county office in Arkansas when she ran for the circuit clerk’s office in the Democratic primary. After losing the election to a World War I veteran by only 200 votes, she went to work as the bookkeeper at the Bensberg Music Shop until her marriage.
She married William Edgar Pryor, an automobile dealer in Camden, on April 6, 1927. The couple had four children, including David Hampton Pryor, future Arkansas governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator.
However, marriage and children did not stop Pryor’s political life. In 1940s, with her election to the Camden School Board, she became one of the first Arkansas women to hold that position. She served on the school board for fifteen years until 1947.
Aside from being a pioneer in women’s politics, Pryor was an active community leader in Camden. During the Depression, Pryor was one of the founders of the Camden Community House, an institution that provided library services, instruction, and recreation to the children of south Camden. She also formed a fund at a Camden bank to make interest-free loans to those who needed them. An active member of the Presbyterian Church, she served as a missionary to British Guiana for six months at the age of fifty-six and was nominated as Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1975.
Pryor was an early member of the Ouachita County Historical Society and was instrumental in the restoration of the Chidester House in Camden, one of the first historic preservation projects in Arkansas. Pryor later saved the Tuft House from destruction by purchasing it, moving it to her property, and restoring it as her residence. Her passion for history was the basis of the Susie Pryor Award, endowed by the Pryor family and administered through the Arkansas Women’s History Institute, which has offered a yearly prize since 1985 for the best unpublished essay about Arkansas women.
Pryor also was a writer. When her son David started a weekly newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen, in 1957, she wrote two columns, “Food Fair” and “Items of Friendly Interest,” for about five years. At age sixty, she enrolled in a writing correspondence course, and when she died, she and a friend were working on a cookbook that her daughters later finished.
Pryor was involved in her son David’s political campaigns, beginning in 1960, when he was a candidate for state representative from Ouachita County, and continuing through his campaign for his second term as U.S. senator. She was described by a friend as “a tough campaigner” and was involved in many facets of the process, including making speeches, attending political rallies, putting up yard signs, answering telephones at headquarters, writing letters to the editor, and going door to door.
On February 10, 1984, Pryor fell and was hospitalized. She died on February 14 as a result of the fall and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Camden.
For additional information:Biographies of the Fabulous Women of Arkansas. http://www.ualr.edu/~arwomen/Biographies.htm (accessed June 8, 2004).
Haney, Sandra. “My Memories of Susie Pryor.” Patterns: A Social History of Camden 2 (1986): 93–94.
Lindsey, John. “A Portrait of the Pryors.” Patterns: A Social History of Camden. 2 (1986): 90–93.
Pryor, Susie. “Women of Our Church—Where Would We Be Without Them?” Patterns: A Social History of Camden 2 (1986): 58–60.
Williams, Nancy, ed. Arkansas Biographies: A Collection of Notable Lives. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
Janice Bufford EddlemanHackett, Arkansas
Last Updated 6/9/2010
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