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Bette Nesmith Graham


Bette Nesmith Graham

Bette Nesmith Graham
Bette Nesmith Graham, with son Michael
Born Bette Clair McMurray
(1924-03-23)March 23, 1924
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Died May 12, 1980(1980-05-12) (aged 56)
Richardson, Texas, U.S.
Education High school graduate
Known for Invention of white out
Spouse(s) Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919-1984) (m. 1942–46)
Robert Graham (m. 1962–75)
Children Michael Nesmith
Parent(s) Jesse McMurray
Christine Duval McMurray

Bette Clair Graham (March 23, 1924 – May 12, 1980) was an American typist, commercial artist, and the inventor of white-out. She was also the mother of musician and producer Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Management style 2
  • Legacy 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Graham was born Bette Clair McMurray in Dallas, Texas to Jesse McMurray, an automotive supply company manager, and Christine Duval.[2] She was raised in San Antonio and graduated from Alamo Heights High School.[3] She married Warren Audrey Nesmith (1919–1984) before he left to fight in World War II. While he was overseas she had a child (Robert Michael Nesmith, born December 30, 1942). After Warren Nesmith returned home, they divorced (1946). In the early 1950s, her father died, leaving some property in Dallas to Bette. She, her mother, Michael, and her sister Yvonne moved there. To support herself as a single mother, she worked as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust. She eventually attained the position of the executive secretary, the highest position open at that time to women in the industry.

It was difficult to erase mistakes made by early electric typewriters, which caused problems. In order to make extra money she used her talent painting holiday windows at the bank. She realized, as she said, "with lettering, an artist never corrects by erasing, but always paints over the error. So I decided to use what artists use. I put some tempera water-based paint in a bottle and took my watercolor brush to the office. I used that to correct my mistakes."

Graham secretly used her white correction paint for five years, making some improvements with help from her son's chemistry teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas. Some bosses admonished her against using it, but coworkers frequently sought her "paint out." She eventually began marketing her typewriter correction fluid as "Mistake Out" in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper when she began her own company.

Mistake Out started the 1960s operating at a small loss, with Nesmith's home doubling as company headquarters. As the product became an indispensable tool of the secretarial trade, Nesmith relocated production and shipping from her kitchen to a 10x26-foot portable metal structure in her backyard, where packaging, shipping, and production were centered.[4]

In 1962 Bette Nesmith married Robert Graham, who joined her in running the company.[5] They divorced in 1975.[6]

In 1979 she sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation for USD $47.5 million. At the time, her company employed 200 people and made 25 million bottles of Liquid Paper per year.[7]

Bette Nesmith died May 12, 1980, at the age of 56, in Richardson, Texas.[8]

Management style

From the start, Graham ran her company with a unique combination of spirituality, egalitarianism, and pragmatism. Raised a Methodist, Graham converted to Christian Science in 1942 and this faith inspired the development of her corporate "Statement of Policy." Part code of ethics, part business philosophy, it covered everything from her belief in a "Supreme Being" to a focus on decentralized decision making and an emphasis on product quality over profit motive. She also believed that women could bring a more nurturing and humanistic quality to the male world of business, and did so herself by including a greenbelt with a fish pond, an employee library, and a childcare center in her new company headquarters in 1975.[9]


Her only son Michael inherited half of his mother's $50+ million estate.[10] A portion financed the Gihon Foundation which established the Council on Ideas, a think tank with a retreat center located north of Santa Fe, New Mexico active from 1990 to 2000 and devoted to exploring world problems.[11]


  1. ^ "Bette Nesmith Graham".  
  2. ^ Texas Birth Index, "Robert Micheal Nesmith" born 1945, retrieved from, lists his mother's full birthname.
  3. ^ "Gihon Foundation, 1793 Catalina Street, Sand City, CA 93955". Retrieved December 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ James, Edward T., ed. (2004). Notable American women. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 244.  
  5. ^ "Bette Nesmith Graham" (PDF). Celebrating Texas. Retrieved March 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ County Historian website
  7. ^ "Gillette Paper Pact".  
  8. ^ "Dies at 56".  
  9. ^ James, Edward T., ed. (2004). Notable American women. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 244.  
  10. ^ Hollander, Nicole (February 14, 1988). "From The Folks Who Gave You Liquid Paper".  
  11. ^ "The Gihon Foundation". Retrieved December 11, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek (2002). Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Stories of Women Inventors and Their Breakthrough Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.  

External links

  • Bette Nesmith Graham, Liquid Paper Inventor
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