Hobart and William Smith Colleges will present the Elizabeth Blackwell Award to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Wangari Maathai P’94, P’96, Sc.D.’94 at a President’s Forum event at the Smith Opera House on Thursday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m.
A civil society and women’s rights activist, Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an organization devoted to conserving the environment and improving the quality of life for African women through leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
The President’s Forum event is free and open to the public. Buses will be running on a loop between the Smith Opera House and Medbery Parking Lot on Pulteney Street (by the FedEx box) starting at 6:45 p.m. Come early as we expect a significant crowd.
The event is a return visit to Geneva as two of Maathai’s children attended the Colleges. Wanjira Mathai ’94 graduated from William Smith and now runs the international office of the Green Belt Movement. Muta Mathai ’96 graduated from Hobart and today is a research scientist in Philadelphia. In 1994, Maathai received an honorary degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Born in Nyeri, Kenya, the daughter of farmers in the highlands of Mount Kenya, she attended college in the United States and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy in 1976, the first woman in the region to do so.
Through her visionary efforts with the Green Belt Movement, Maathai has helped women plant more than 40 million trees across Africa, significantly improving the environment by curtailing the devastating effects of deforestation and desertification. Today, 6,000 village-based tree nurseries – run entirely by women – have been established in Kenya and the Green Belt Movement has spread to more than 30 countries.
In the course of her work as an activist, Maathai has been tear-gassed, beaten, imprisoned and has almost died. During the regime of President Arap Moi, she was violently attacked for demanding multi-party elections and an end to political corruption and tribal politics. In 1989 Maathai almost single-handedly saved Nairobi’s Uhuru Park by stopping the construction of the 60-story Kenya Times Media Trust business complex.
In 1998, Maathai joined the campaign of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. As co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, she played a leading role in seeking the cancellation of the overwhelming and unpayable debts of poor countries in Africa. She also has campaigned tirelessly against land-grabbing and the theft of public forests.
Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She has addressed the United Nations on several occasions, and she spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly. She has served on the U.N. Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.
Maathai is listed in the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Hall of Fame and was named one of the 100 Heroines of the World. In June 1997, Maathai was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 people in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. In 2005, Maathai was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
The Blackwell Award, given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind, is named for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in modern times to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree. Blackwell earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, later Hobart College.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges confer the Blackwell Award whenever a candidate of sufficient stature and appropriate qualifications is identified. The first award was given in 1958 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Smith College. 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award and the 100th anniversary of William Smith College. Maathai joins such notable women as former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, professional tennis legend Billie Jean King and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.
Established by President Gearan in 2000, the President’s Forum Series is designed to bring a variety of important figures to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with the entire HWS community as well as the residents of Geneva.