Hello, my name is Linda Arrington, a member of the William Smith Class of ’88 and chair of the Honors Committee of the Board of Trustees. It is my pleasure to provide you with a history of how the Elizabeth Blackwell Award came into being. It is the highest honor bestowed by the Colleges. Hobart and William Smith have a history of recognizing outstanding women throughout the years. Bishop Harris, you are certainly no exception!
In the 1840's, when Elizabeth Blackwell, as a young woman, was trying to choose a path for her life, she often visited and provided companionship and comfort for a friend who was dying of cancer. One day the sick woman said to her, "you are fond of study, Elizabeth. Why don't you study medicine? If I could have been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me."
The notion was heretical for that place and time. The view was nearly unanimously accepted that a woman neither could nor should complete a medical education. Elizabeth was turned down - or, in many cases, simply ignored - by every medical college to which she wrote. Finally, in 1847, she came here, to the Geneva medical college, a department of Geneva college, which was the direct precursor of Hobart and William smith colleges.
Elizabeth graduated two years later at the head of her class. Accepting her diploma that day, she turned to president Benjamin Hale and said, "sir, by the help of the most high, it shall be the effort of my life to shed honor on this diploma."
She kept her word. Elizabeth Blackwell founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and aided in the creation of its medical college. She helped found the National Health Society in her native England, was the first woman to be placed on the British medical register, and taught at England's first college of medicine for women. She was a pioneer in preventive medicine.
Dr. Blackwell's career served as a statement about the capabilities of women in a male-dominated age.
Over the years, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have paid tribute to Elizabeth Blackwell in various ways. Since 1958, we have given an award in her name, meant to honor individuals who, like Elizabeth, assert the capabilities of women through their achievements. Among the past recipients of the award include Barbara Jordan, Margaret Chase Smith, Antonia Novello, Sandra Day O'connor, Margaret Mead, Billie Jean King, Madeleine K. Albright -- and today, Bishop Barbara C. Harris.
Congratulations, Bishop Harris.
History of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award Linda D. Arrington '88, Chair, Honors Committee, Board of Trustees
Convocation, September 7, 2004