Alice L. Bendheim was known as a fierce supporter of civil liberties who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. The mother of four co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona in 1959, and for 60 years she never stopped fighting for the freedoms and causes she cared for so deeply.
Bendheim passed away in September at the age of 90, but her children and the ACLU of Arizona community said they will always remember her passion and determination.
As a former schoolteacher turned lawyer, Bendheim was outspoken on many significant issues affecting Arizonans and Americans in general. She joined Arizona’s ACLU group in 1954 before it was an official affiliate of the national organization. Her commitment never wavered as she worked hard to strengthen ACLU’s efforts during the 1960s civil rights movement and the feminist movement in the 1970s.
Bendheim’s family said she was eager to support civil rights, but it wasn’t always easy to do in a traditionally conservative state like Arizona. Her work with the ACLU led her to lose her job as a teacher due to concerns she may have had an “undue influence” on her students. However, this only furthered her passion for protecting civil liberties.
“It bothered her yet inspired her and raised her passion to a certain degree. She had to fight that – she just thought that people’s rights should come first, and they should all be treated fairly,” Bendheim’s daughter, Ruth Schaefer, said. “She was always an advocate for free speech.”
Bendheim focused much of her time on freedom of expression and the treatment of prisoners and their rights. Unlike other moms at that time, she worked while also studying to become a lawyer. She represented clients primarily in divorce and child custody cases.
Her career and family didn’t stop her from serving as president, secretary and treasurer of the ACLU board of directors as well as a member of the National ACLU Advisory Council and Board. She became the longest-serving member of ACLU of Arizona after taking on these responsibilities for almost 60 years.
Last November, Bendheim was awarded the ACLU of Arizona’s Civil Libertarian of the Year award at an event celebrating the nonprofit’s 60th anniversary.
“She inspired me to do my best, and all the typical mom things, but also taught me how to speak up for myself and help other people who may not be able to help themselves,” Schaefer said.
Her children say their mother always needed a purpose, and she never failed to find a cause to keep her on her toes and heavily involved in the community. Most people who knew Bendheim recall her penchant for letting her thoughts be known.
“She didn’t breathe without a strong opinion,” Schaefer said. “She didn’t like what was going on right now. For the future of our country, she’d want a world where people have differences but can solve them peacefully without so much friction.”