Church, Frank

Alternative names
Birth 1924-07-25
Death 1984-04-07

Biographical notes:


United States Senator from Idaho.

From the guide to the Frank Church Speech, 1960, (Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.)

Rod Gramer was born in Boise in 1953 and graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in history in 1975. He was a journalist with the Idaho Statesman when he began research for a biography of Frank Church in 1978 with fellow journalist Marc Johnson. Johnson later left the project and Gramer continued alone, assisted by his wife Julie. Rod and Julie Gramer were the first researchers to use the Frank Church papers at Boise State University in 1984. Gramer left the Idaho Statesman in 1988 to become news director for television station KTVB-TV in Boise in 1988. In 1998 he moved to Portland, Oregon, to assume a similar position with a television station there. Additional biographical information can be found in Who’s Who in the American West 1992/93 and in Contemporary Authors (volume 147).

LeRoy Ashby (b. 1938) earned a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 1966. In 1972 he joined the faculty of Washington State University, where he has taught popular culture and twentieth-century American history. He has won several teaching awards and has written several books, including biographies of Senator William Borah and William Jennings Bryan. Like Rod and Julie Gramer, Ashby and his wife Mary were among the first users of the Church collection at Boise State. Further biographical information can be found in the Directory of American Scholars and Contemporary Authors (volume 33-36, First Revision).

From the guide to the LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer Collection on Frank Church, 1850-1993, (Boise State University Library Special Collections and Archives)

Frank Church was born in Boise, Idaho on July 25, 1924, a third generation Idahoan. While in junior high school he wrote a letter to a Boise newspaper in response to an article on foreign relations by Senator William Borah. The letter appeared on the paper's front page and Church took the first step toward his goal of following in the footsteps of Senator Borah of Idaho.

As a junior at Boise High School, Church won the 1941 American Legion National Oratorical Contest with a speech titled "The American Way of Life." The prize was sufficient to provide for four years at the college or university of the winner's choice. Church chose Stanford University, enrolling in 1942. Church never forgot his debt to the American Legion and debating and became the Idaho coordinator for the contest after beginning law practice in Boise. Throughout his career, when corresponding with young debaters, he would mention his experience as a debater and encourage his correspondents to continue this activity.

In 1943, Church enlisted in the United States Army and served as a military intelligence officer in the China-Burma-India theatre. When discharged in 1946, he returned to Stanford to complete his education. In 1947, he married Bethine Clark, daughter of Judge and Mrs. Chase A. Clark, a former governor of Idaho. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Stanford, Church was diagnosed as having cancer and was given one year to live. Painful X-ray treatments spared his life and this second chance led him to later reflect that "life itself is such a chancy proposition that the only way to live is by taking great chances." In 1950, Church graduated from Stanford Law School and returned to Boise to practice law.

Frank Church became an active Democrat in Idaho and after an unsuccessful try for the State Legislature in 1952, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1956. After a closely contested primary election, he handily defeated the Republican incumbent Herman Welker. At the age of 32, Church became the fifth youngest member ever to sit in the U.S. Senate. The newly elected junior Senator from Idaho responded to a Lyndon B. Johnson request for committee assignment preferences by asking for a place on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. It was a post he described as being "of great moment and importance to Idaho."

In 1958, Church was appointed to the McClellan "Rackets" Committee and received national television exposure. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson gave Church's career a significant boost in 1959 by appointing him to the Foreign Relations Committee. In 1960, Church received additional national exposure when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. In his first term Church played key roles in civil rights legislation, wilderness preservation and statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. In 1962, he became the first Democratic Senator from Idaho to win a second term.

In 1965, Church expressed his concern about the continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam in a speech on the Senate floor. Church's constituency was to the right of the Senator on this matter and he took a political risk as a vocal opponent of the war. In spite of this position he was re-elected in 1968. In 1969, he joined with Senator John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky.) to sponsor an amendment prohibiting the use of ground troops in Laos and Thailand. In 1970, the second Cooper-Church Amendment limited the power of the president during a war situation. Thereafter Church was actively engaged in efforts to force the end of the Vietnam War.

Another of Senator Church's interests was the elderly. In 1972, Church became the chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, a committee he was appointed to in 1967. To provide for the welfare of retirees, Church sponsored legislation for a cost-of-living adjustment, improved medical care, better housing and other benefits for Social Security recipients. Church's concern for the elderly played a role in winning re-election time after time.

Senator Church served on numerous other committees. From 1973 to 1976, he was co-chair of the Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers. This committee studied the presidential emergency powers that had developed over a 40-year period. In 1973, Church was appointed chairman of the Subcommittee on Multi-National Corporations, charged with the task of exploring the political influence of multi-nationals. Church felt this appointment may have been his single most important assignment. In 1975, Church became the chairman of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. This committee investigated alleged abuses of power by the CIA and FBI.

In the spring of 1976, Church sought the nomination for the Democratic candidacy for president. He won primaries in Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, but handicapped by his late start, he decided to withdraw in favor of Jimmy Carter.

Early in his career Senator Church struck a balance between preservation and development of the nation's dwindling wilderness areas. His sponsorship and support of the Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Wilderness Acts helped ensure the preservation of the most beautiful regions in the nation. To honor his efforts, the River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho was re-named the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area.

A balanced stance was one of the ingredients that helped Senator Church achieve re-election three times in an essentially conservative state. By opposing gun control legislation, supporting local agricultural interests and fighting efforts by southwestern states to export Idaho's water, Church's liberal foreign relations stances were not serious impediments - until 1980.

In 1979, Church achieved a lifelong dream when he was appointed chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the late 1970s, and later as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Church guided the ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties through the Senate. This support was used by Church's political foes to defeat his efforts for a fifth term. He was defeated by Congressman Steve Symms by 4,262 votes - less than 1 percent of the voter turnout.

After his defeat, Frank Church practiced international law with the Washington, D.C., firm of Whitman and Ransom, specializing in Asian issues. In 1984, Church was hospitalized for a pancreatic tumor and died at home in Bethesda, MD., on April 7 at the age of 59.

Source: The Frank Church Papers: A Summary Guide, including the papers of Bethine C. Church and Carl Burke by Ralph W. Hansen and Deborah J. Roberts, assisted by Ellen Koger and David Kennedy, Boise: Boise State University Library, Special Collections Department, 1998

From the guide to the Frank Church Papers, 1941-1984, (Boise State University Library)


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Ark ID:


  • Wild and scenic rivers--Law and legislation--United States
  • Watergate Affair, 1972-1974
  • Presidents--United States--Election--1960
  • Dam failures--Idaho
  • Alaska--History--1959-
  • Basque Americans--Idaho
  • Forest conservation--United States
  • Political corruption--United
  • Treaties
  • Firearms--Law and legislation--United States
  • Natural resources--Idaho
  • Environmental Conditions
  • Idaho
  • Agriculture--Idaho
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975
  • Federal aid to education--United States
  • International business enterprises--Law and legislation--United States
  • Water and Water Rights
  • Basques--Spain
  • Dams--Idaho
  • Political Campaigns
  • Canals, Interoceanic
  • Teton Dam (Idaho)
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--1934-
  • Church, Frank--Interviews
  • Hells Canyon National Recreation Area (Oregon and Idaho)
  • Sawtooth National Recreation Area (Idaho)
  • Elections--Idaho
  • Political conventions--California
  • Older people--Government policy--United States
  • Hawaii--History--1959-
  • Elections--United States
  • Civil rights--United States
  • Presidents--United States--Election--1976
  • National parks and reserves--Idaho
  • Church, Frank--Archives
  • Canals--Panama
  • Church, Bethine C.--Interviews
  • Gun control--United States
  • National parks and reserves--United States
  • Political parties--United States
  • Mines and mineral resources--Idaho
  • Environmental Activism
  • Rivers--Idaho
  • Abortion--Government policy--United States
  • Wilderness conservation--United States
  • Water-power--Idaho


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