Mr. President, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, students and guests.
Receiving the Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell Award is an incredible honor. To think I have been selected to follow all the accomplished women who have gone before me is unbelievable. As the kids are wont to say today, “Awesome.” I finally know what they mean.
When I began to explore in some depth Elizabeth Blackwell’s life and work, I discovered an interesting relationship with one of my professional, historical ancestors, Florence Nightingale. Both were English citizens, Victorian ladies who defied the conventions of their time, thought "outside the box" of Victorian feminine boundaries, and beyond thinking, moved into action. They challenged the rigid, prejudicial and inflexible systems that limited the use of their intellectual prowess and personal values. Fortunately, there were institutions like the Geneva Medical College, which became Hobart and William Smith, and the German hospital Kaisersworth, which allowed these renegade women to prepare themselves for their common missions: to serve humanity and to prepare others to do the same in their respective professions. Beyond their preparations, they struggled with gender biases, system inertias and conservatism, and resistances to changing the restrictive social and cultural environments. Sounds amazingly like the 21st century, doesn’t it?
Anyway, thanks to historian Lois Montiero, I have learned that the longtime friendship shared by these two women was sorely tested when they advocated quite different approaches to nursing and medical education. Blackwell proposed a system of nursing and medical education in a small specialty hospital for women. She thought medical education should start with a probationary period in nursing and progress to medical education, with a sanitary professor in charge of both the hospital and schools of nursing and medicine.
Politically and professionally, Florence Nightingale couldn’t disagree more with Blackwell’s idea. She saw the two professions as different and autonomous in their own right. For Nightingale, good nursing care allowed the body to heal itself in an environment that nurses created to promote optimal health and prevention. On the other hand, medicine was oriented to disease, searching for its detection, diagnosis, and cure. Perhaps Montiero explains the differences more cogently. She says: “[Nightingale’s] was a public-health, preventive-medicine approach. Blackwell intended to educate women to be physicians, not nurses, although she saw the nursing course as the first step in the educational process. To Blackwell, the primary goal was to teach women physicians to treat and cure illness, not to care for the sick or to improve the general hygiene of the population.”
Despite these differences that occurred over Blackwell’s ideas of developing a medical establishment, which, by the way, never came to fruition, these two women remained friends. They were able to discuss their differences civilly, cordially and compellingly. Still, as a follower of Nightingale’s wisdom, I have found her philosophy of caring for and about others timeless and inspirational. It has stood the test of time and explicates the nature of nursing. It recognizes the complexities of the human condition and environmental impacts on health, and defines the goals of optimal health for individuals and populations.
Both Nightingale and Blackwell exemplify Nightingale's advice to those who follow these two courageous women and all of the previous winners of this Blackwell Award. Nightingale challenges us, and I pass her words on to you for future reference, to “find your must.” She meant that you need to find that which is a dire necessity for you to do. Something that compels you to act, something that drives you toward an accomplishment. Once you find your must, act on it. And finally, I believe once achieved, there is a felt obligation to give back. Give back to the individuals and institutions that fostered your growth and development and have applauded your achievements.
Examples of those before us who have done just this abound. Just look around this campus, starting with this Board of Trustees and on this podium, with this Board of Trustees. You will see people who exemplify Nightingale’s exhortations. Two such people are Trustee Herb Stern and Trustee William Scandling. Unfortunately, Mr. Scandling couldn't be with us today. As a dear friend and generous supporter of this institution, he has been giving back in service and financial support in grateful recognition of the opportunities this institution provided him. Others like them surround you with shining examples of their commitments to repay a felt debt.
For those of you searching for your "must," you may not have to search too long if you heed Aristotle's sage advice. He said, “Where your talents and the world’s need cross, there lies your vocation.” Look no further. You're on track.
It's been a wonderful day.
Receipt of Elizabeth Blackwell Award, Loretta C. Ford
Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003