Sep 02, 2011 • By

The first female executive at General Mills

Though she didn’t arrive at General Mills until 1960, more than 40 years after the Betty Crocker name was created, Mercedes Bates is most often linked to Betty because of her instrumental role with the Betty Crocker division.

Bates became the fifth director of the Betty Crocker Kitchens in 1964. And in 1966, she was named a vice president at General Mills – the first woman to achieve that position with the company.

Bates was instrumental in the design of the 1966 Betty Crocker Kitchens of the World and the beginning of public tours of the kitchens. Each of the seven kitchens had a unique motif, including New England, California, New Orleans, Latin America, the Mediterranean, Japan and Scandinavia.

(Photo: Japanese Kitchen in the Betty Crocker Kitchens, featuring Marcia Copeland making Betty Crocker Brownies, 1966.)

Her lifelong mission was advocating for home economics in everyday life. Bates was appointed by President Nixon to the White House Fellows Commission and by President Ford to an economic summit conference. Business Week magazine named her one of the 100 Top Corporate Women in American Business in the 1970s.

A 1936 graduate of Oregon State University with a B. S. in Home Economics, Bates made a donation to the school to build the Mercedes A. Bates Family Study Center in 1989. It was the largest single one-time donation ever made to the university at that time. The 15,000-square-foot building houses preschool programs, conference rooms and classrooms. She received the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Distinguished Service Award from Oregon State.

Bates served on many boards and committees throughout her career and after she retired from General Mills in 1983. She died in 1997.

Editor’s note: Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.