Originally printed by The Communities Foundation of Texas, Dallas, TX 1980 Also includes excerpts from North Texas State University Oral History Collection #10, “Interview with Bette Graham,” by Dr. Floyd Jenkins and Dr. Ruth Anderson, August 3, 1977.
The Gihon Foundation was started by Bette Nesmith Graham in Texas in 1977. She named Michael Nesmith, her son, and Patricia Hill, an attorney, as Trustees, and they remain as Trustees as of 2010. This is a brief history of Ms. Graham.
Dallas has had its share of outstanding business and professional women, but never has there been anyone else quite like Bette C. Graham. Courageous, bright, innovative, persistent, she proved that a woman could make it in the business world. To invent something is one thing; to market it is another. Bette Graham did both and became famous the world over as the inventor of Liquid Paper, the correction fluid that is a staple among office supplies.
She was born March 23, 1924 in Dallas, Texas to Christine Duval and Jesse McMurray. She was raised in San Antonio, TX and attended Alamo Heights School (grades 1 - 12). After graduating from high school, Graham married a soldier, Warren Nesmith. She gave birth to her only child, Michael Nesmith. In 1946 she divorced her husband. From that point she was the sole provider for herself and her son.
Bette Graham began her business career in 1951 as a secretary at Texas Bank & Trust, doing free-lance artwork on the side to earn extra money. It was through her knowledge of pigments, solvents and brushes that she came up with the idea of a fluid to paint out typing mistakes. Her friends began to use “Mistake Out” and in a relatively short time, she was supplying her product to all the secretaries in the building. Her kitchen was her manufacturing plant and remained so until 1964 when she moved the operation into a portable building in her back yard. Orders increased; Bette resigned her secretarial position and went into full-time marketing. She changed the name of her company to Liquid Paper in 1968 and moved into an 11,000 square foot building in Dallas.
Her success did not come easily. Diligent research went into improving her product. At the public library she located a formula for tempura paint, and a chemistry teacher at St. Mark's School helped her with her experimentation. An employee of a paint company showed her how to grind and mix paint. Michael Nesmith, her son, and his friends bottled and sold the product to office supply dealers picked out at random from the phone. Stories about Liquid Paper in trade magazines brought in orders from all over the country and the first big order, for 300 bottles in three colors, came from General Electric. That was when Bette made the decision to only work part time as a secretary and spend more time in her kitchen laboratory. In 1960 her business was a bit in the red, but she persisted. After her marriage to Robert M. Graham in 1962, they both went on the road personally marketing Liquid Paper, travelling the southern and western U.S. That was the turning point. Liquid Paper was made.
When the company moved into its 11,000 square foot headquarters in 1968, Bette Graham retired as President, but remained on the board until 1976. As President, she had directed all advertising and as Chairman of the Board, she continued to direct the company. In 1979, the Liquid Paper Company was sold to Gillette for $47.5 million.
Bette Graham died unexpectedly at the age of 56 in 1980.