|Lived:||May 22, 1943—May 17, 2020 (aged 76)|
Betty Williams is a peace activist from Northern Ireland and a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize with Mairead Maguire in 1976 for their work as co-founders of the Women for Peace, which later became the Community for Peace People, an organization dedicated to encouraging a peaceful resolution to violence in Northern Ireland.
Williams was born on May 22, 1943, in Belfast, Northern Ireland as Elizabeth Williams. Unusual for the time, her father was Protestant and her mother was Catholic, to which Williams attributes her religious tolerance and desire for peace. After graduating from high school, she worked as an office receptionist. In the early 1970s, she joined an anti-violence campaign headed by a Protestant priest.
In August 1976, after witnessing the death of Maguire's niece and two nephews who were hit by a car driven by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who had been pursued and shot by British authorities, Williams obtained 6,000 signatures on a petition for peace in only two days, gaining wide media attention. She and Maquire co-founded the Women for Peace and organized a peace march to the graves of the children that was attended by 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women; the march was attacked by members of the IRA. The following week, they led another peace march with 35,000 participants, with no incidents. For the next six months, they organized weekly peace rallies throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom that were attended by thousands of people, mostly women. During that period, there was a 70% decrease in the rate of violence. In recognition of their efforts, Williams and Maguire became joint recipients of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.
After winning the Nobel Prize, Williams lectured extensively. She moved to the United States in 1982 with her second husband, and in 1992, was appointed to the Texas Commission for Children and Youth by then Texas Governor Ann Richards. In 1997 she founded the World Centers of Compassion for Children International. She was also a visiting professor at Sam Houston State University before returning to Ireland in 2004. She and five other Nobel laureates - Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, and Maguire - created the Nobel Women's Initiative in 2006 to promote peace, justice and equality for women. Currently, she works with a number of peace organization around the world and lectures on topics of peace, education, inter-cultural and inter-faith understanding, anti-extremism, and children's rights.
Williams passed away on March 17, 2020 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Britannica (n.d.). “Betty Williams” Britannica. Retrieved August 22, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Betty-Williams.
The Nobel Prize (n.d.). “Betty Williams Facts” The Nobel Prize. Retrieved August 22, 2022. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1976/williams/facts/.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (n.d.). “Betty Williams” Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Retrieved August 22, 2022. https://rfkhumanrights.org/betty-williams.