A lifelong advocate of women’s rights, she was a national spokesperson for the Equal Rights Amendment, advisor to five U.S. Presidents and four New Mexico governors, and a leader in academia. Through education, politics, and community service, she worked tirelessly to make a positive difference in the world.
Marjorie Bell Chambers has been described as “restless, multifaceted, and an indomitable spirit” who had “an unbounded legacy of deeds, thoughts, and inspirations for her children and her students…” She received a Doctorate of Philosophy in History and Political Science at the University of New Mexico and pursued a career that spanned academia, politics, nonprofit, and community leadership and activism, all while raising her family.
Born in New York City on March 11, 1923, Chambers contracted tuberculosis in her childhood and suffered from trouble with her lungs for the remainder of her life. She received her B.A. in history and political science from Mount Holyoke College in 1943, and in 1945 married physicist William H. Chambers. They both pursued graduate studies at Cornell University, with Chambers receiving her M.A. in 1948. After her husband earned his Ph.D. at Ohio State University, they moved with their two children to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In Los Alamos, the Chambers welcomed two more children and she focused on raising the family and volunteering with various organizations, including the Girl Scouts and the American Association of University Women. She was a founding member of the Los Alamos Branch of the American Association of University Women, and served as president of that branch, then New Mexico Division before serving as national president from 1975 to 1979.
In 1964, she began working as a substitute teacher in Los Alamos public schools and in 1965 was hired as project historian at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Los Alamos. This work prompted her to continue her graduate studies and she received her PhD from the University of New Mexico in 1974. An adjunct faculty member of the university from 1970 to 1976, she returned for the 1984-1985 academic year. She had a long career in higher education, joining the faculty of the Union Institute Graduate School in 1979 and serving as dean of the Midwest region from 1979 to 1982; she retired from the Institute in 2003.
She retired at age eighty after a quarter of a century as dean and graduate school professor of the Union Institute and University, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She also served as President of Colorado Women’s College in Denver and as trustee and interim president of Colby Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire.
Chambers was also a noted leader in the world of non-profit organizations. She rose through the ranks to become the national president of the American Association of University Women, and she also actively served on the board of directors for the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities.
As a resident of Los Alamos who loved to work with and teach young women, Chambers, herself a lifelong Girl Scout, was a troop leader, camp counselor, and ultimately chair of the Sangre de Cristo Scout Council. She was also a founding member of the Los Alamos Historical Society. Chambers ran unsuccessfully for United States Congress and Lt. Governor of New Mexico and was active in politics generally and the Republican Party in particular.
A lifelong advocate for women’s rights, Chambers became a national spokesperson for the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment. She became nationally famous and was an advisor to five U.S. Presidents and four New Mexico governors. President Ford appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Women’s Educational Programs in 1976 and she remained on the Council until 1980, serving as chair from 1978 to 1979. In 1978, President Carter appointed her to the President’s Advisory Committee for Women, and she became acting chair after Bella Abzug was fired from the committee in 1979.
She was appointed to the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education and received many local and national awards, including the New Mexico Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the International Women’s Forum’s “A Woman Who Made a Difference” Award.
In 1982, Chambers became the first Republican woman to run (unsuccessfully) for Congress from New Mexico; she followed this with an unsuccessful run for Lieutenant Governor in 1986. She was elected to the Los Alamos County Council in 1975, serving as its chair in 1976 and instituting use of the word “councilor” rather than “council man.” Chambers also served as chair of the Los Alamos County Personnel Board from 1984 to 1990.
Marjorie Bell Chambers was a dauntless and driven leader who tirelessly pursued her goals. Wife, mother, educator, politician, activist leader, and practitioner of community service, she made a difference in the lives of so many during her lifetime and after.
She died on August 22, 2006, after a long illness.
"Los Alamos, New Mexico: A Survey to 1949." The Los Alamos Story, Monograph 1, Los Alamos Historical Society, April 1999.
"The Battle for Civil Rights, Or, How Los Alamos Became a County." The Los Alamos Story, Monograph 3, (Los Alamos Historical Society, May 1999.