Daily Archives: March 12, 2007

Mercedes Bates, also known as Betty Crocker

Mercedes BatesIn honor of Women’s History Month, University Archives will be posting items on strong, pioneering women who have worked at or attended Oregon State University. It is fitting that we start our first post with a woman who helped shape the image of an endearing female American icon — Betty Crocker.

Mercedes Bates was born in Portland, Oregon and was a 1936 Home Economics graduate of Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). After leaving OAC, Bates began her career working with southern California Gas Company overseeing their home service department. Then in 1948 she decided to go into business for herself, with a loan from her father, she opened a freelance food consulting business. Her food consulting business gave experience with food presentation in TV commercials. Bates was able to parlay her experience in 1960 as a senior food editor for McCall’s magazine, where she worked for four years.

In 1964 Mercedes Bates embarked on long career with General Mills, serving as the director of the Betty Crocker Kitchens. During her tenure as director, Bates was responsible for updating Betty’s persona as American women’s roles were changing. In 1966 Bates became the first female vice president in General Mills history. Not only was this a first of General Mills but this was also a first in the food industry itself. Bates would remain at General Mills until her retirement in 1984.

Retirement did not slow Bates down. She was active with a number of charities and other organizations including, the Girl Scout Council, the 4H Clubs of Minnesota, and the American Home Economic Association. It was while serving on the board of American Home Economic Association that Bates came back to OSU. A site visit by Bates lead to a generous gift for OSU, and in 1989 donated $3 million dollars to OSU. At the time it was the largest one-time donation to the University. The Mercedes A. Bates Family Study Center was opened in 1992 in her honor. The building housed programs that focused on studying families throughout their lifespan. Bates passed away in 1997 at the age of 81.