Hobart and William Smith Colleges presented Dr. Janet L. Yellen, chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, with the prestigious Elizabeth Blackwell Award on Thursday, Jan. 22.
Named for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in modern times to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree, the Blackwell Award is given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind. Blackwell earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, a precursor of Hobart College.
“It’s doubly an honor to find myself associated with the individuals who have received the Blackwell Award before today,” Yellen said upon receiving the honor before an audience of HWS trustees, students, faculty, staff, alums and friends of the Colleges during a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “I am very grateful to be here, but especially grateful that Hobart and William Smith have used this award since 1958 to celebrate the service and historic achievements of these 39 women. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Elizabeth Blackwell. I want to thank you. This is a tremendous honor.”
Yellen is the 40th esteemed recipient, joining the dozens of other women who have achieved at the highest levels and broken down barriers across their respective fields and pursuits. HWS confers the award whenever a candidate of sufficient stature and appropriate qualifications is identified. Other recipients include creator of the Special Olympics Eunice Kennedy Shriver; former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and author Margaret Mead.
“Thank you for being here this evening as we celebrate a remarkable public servant and a remarkable woman, Dr. Janet Yellen, the first woman in history to lead the Federal Reserve Board,” said HWS President Mark D. Gearan during his welcome address.
Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, joined by Chair of the Honors Committee of the Board Dr. Richard Wasserman ’70, conferred the award to Yellen, whose appointment as chair of the Federal Reserve in February 2014 made her the first woman to hold the central bank’s highest office during its 101-year history. Also joining the platform party was Dr. John E. Yellen ’64, brother of Janet, program director for archaeology at the National Science Foundation, and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
“Dr. Blackwell was, fundamentally, a public servant, an individual who devoted her life to easing the suffering of the sick and infirmed, and to improving the health and wellness of all people,” Gearan said. “Tonight, we celebrate another public servant who, like Dr. Blackwell, is a trailblazer and pioneer.”
In presenting the award, Zupan cited Yellen’s fortitude, compassion and intelligence, as well as her enormous conviction and unyielding determination as the first woman in history to lead the Federal Reserve.
“Janet Yellen is proving that no economic recession can restrain the power of the American spirit, and that when given the right economic conditions, all people can lead fulfilled, productive lives of consequence… Through her work, she is strengthening our nation’s trust in the American Dream and shaping the marketplace of the future,” Zupan said.
Noting her connection to the Colleges, Yellen expressed her gratitude to HWS for the longstanding tradition of the Blackwell Award.
“Before John started there, we had two cousins who attended Hobart so I have long known and respected this place,” she said. “And I am beyond honored to be here tonight.”
An expert on economic policy and macroeconomics specializing in the causes, mechanisms and implications of unemployment, Yellen also serves as chair of the Federal Open Market Committee, the principal monetary policymaking body of the Federal Reserve. Responsible for a balance sheet of more than $4 trillion at the Federal Reserve, Yellen was named by Forbes in 2014 as the world’s second most powerful woman and sixth most powerful person. In 2010, Yellen began a 14-year appointment with the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, serving first as vice chair before taking over as chair. Previously, Yellen was chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) at the White House during the Clinton Administration.
“I am proud to call myself an alumnus and proud that Hobart and William Smith have chosen to honor my sister in this way,” said John Yellen, who also shared remarks during the ceremony.
Reflecting on “the value of a liberal arts education,” John Yellen concluded that “one thing that education can do is to provide an increased self-understanding of ‘decency’ by setting it into a broader historical and intellectual context…And in this context I think it very appropriate that Janet receive the Elizabeth Blackwell Award. Physicians by their very calling are decent people and I think that’s an essential characteristic of Janet as well. It’s clear that decency is at Janet’s core and constitutes one of her guiding principles. So I think that the Blackwell Award is particularly appropriate.”
As chair of the Federal Reserve, Yellen has been lauded for her credentials and extensive experience working with the Board of Governors. In advance of taking the oath of office in 2014, a Washington Post blog dubbed Yellen “… perhaps the most qualified Fed chair in history” and that “if experience is your main criterion, Yellen is hard to beat.” In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Bloomberg Markets magazine named Yellen to its 50 Most Influential list, citing individuals who have “the ability to move markets or shape ideas and policies.”
“There has been a gradual, but significant increase in the share of women in economics, but women still remain underrepresented at the highest levels in academia and government, and business,” Janet Yellen said during her remarks. “I hope and will do all that I can to ensure that over time that changes.”
More information on can be found at http://www2.hws.edu/article-id-18405