In 1958, William Smith College celebrated its golden anniversary by joining with Hobart College to create the Elizabeth Blackwell Award, named in honor of the first North American woman in modern times to become a doctor. Blackwell’s fortitude in pursuing her medical degree at Hobart’s precursor institution — Geneva Medical College — her determination to break through stereotypes limiting talents and aspirations of women and the dedication of her talents for the betterment of humanity opened doors to women and serves as an example of a life lived in service to others.
That first award was bestowed on Genevan Gwendolyn Grant Mellon, medical missionary and founder of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. It has since been given to 36 distinguished women from around the world whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Blackwell award and the 100th birthday of William Smith College, HWS bestowed the Elizabeth Blackwell Award on two very special women. In April 2007, internationally recognized molecular virologist and Harvard Professor of Medicine Dr. Priscilla A. Schaffer ’64, Sc.D. ’94 accepted the award, becoming the first William Smith alumna to receive the Blackwell. Just one year later, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement Dr. Wangari Maathai P ’94, P ’96, Sc.D. ’94 also accepted the award, becoming the first William Smith parent to be so honored.