A Voice for Peace Remembered
by Elizabeth Quick

Betty in 1963. Courtesy of the Cazenovia College yearbook.

Work for peace and social justice requires many hands and many voices. As we look back at those who have shaped this work, too often we remember only the most famous or the most published or the most vocal. Yet, peacemaking involves countless individuals, contributing many important gifts and talents. This is true of the Syracuse Peace Council - many have shaped SPC to become the local force for peace and justice it is today. Norma Elizabeth (Betty) Bentley is one individual who played an important, though less visible role.

Betty grew up in a well-to-do Syracuse family. A graduate of Radcliffe College at a time when few women received higher education, she taught English, first at Syracuse University, and then for more than two decades at Cazenovia College, where she eventually chaired the Division of Arts and Sciences before her retirement in 1981.

Betty was an early member of the Quaker Meeting in Syracuse, and from this springboard became involved in peace activism. She, as well as other Quakers, was an early member and organizer in the Syracuse Peace Council.

SPC's archives document Betty's bold voice within SPC, calling for accountability, working for reform and challenging leadership to maintain high standards of equality and responsibility in running SPC. In 1947, writing to SPC's leading voice Norman Whitney, Betty's mastery and sharp use of language is clear. "I am fairly sure," she writes, "that the time has come for the Peace Council to change drastically, or as gracefully and quietly as possible to cease existence. No gnashing of teeth, wringing of hands and tearing of hair. Quite frankly I should prefer adjustment to suicide."

Betty was very concerned about the financial stability of the Peace Council, and urged ways for reform. She was especially upset by the salary of a new male employee, and protested that it was equal to the salary of two female staff members combined. She wrote Whitney, "Certainly [the male staff member] does not merit more money than [the female staffer] and the fact that he is a man is utterly irrelevant. Ardent feminist, say you. Possibly, but I don't think that feminism is my sole reason . . .."

Betty didn't get the reaction from Whitney she had hoped for, but reflected, "I guess I felt that while [Whitney] gave everything to the
SPC, he probably wanted everything in return; and I thought it was hindering the Peace Council not to let other people have some initiative, too."

She was active elsewhere in the community as well - as a leader in the Hemlock Society of Central New York and a member of the Central New York Library Resources Council Board of Trustees, serving as Board President from 1973-1974. "Betty had a life-long concern with race relations," recalled fellow Quaker Lisa Mundy, and was involved in Youth Opportunities Unlimited, an organization which provided educational and career opportunities for young people in the 1950s and 60s. Betty was involved with the Syracuse Memorial Society and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She was president of the YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County, and after her retirement from the YWCA, the Betty Bentley Employee of the Year Award was created in her honor.

Betty passed away in April 2005 at age 88. Her friends and colleagues remember her as shy and quiet, but also articulate and motivated, a "passionate supporter of peace issues." She loved the Adirondacks, loved reading and libraries, and being an activist. Bentley's passion for social justice is evident from the organizations she chose to support, which include, in addition to
SPC, Oxfam, the Central New York Library Resources Council, the American Association of University Women and the Sierra Club, among others.

Betty was a regular financial supporter of
SPC(current records start in 1967), missing only one year before illness prevented it. In her passing, she left a generous life insurance policy to enable the Syracuse Peace Council to continue its work long after her death. We thank her for dedication to peace and justice during her lifetime, and for her vision in supporting our peacework in the years to come.


Elizabeth is a United Methodist pastor serving a congregation in Oneida, NY.