The children of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will accept the Elizabeth Blackwell Award on their mother’s behalf.
In recognition of a lifetime of extraordinary achievements and public service, including authorship of landmark decisions impacting women’s rights and gender discrimination, the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be posthumously honored as the 41st recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, the 200th birthday of the award’s namesake, the first woman to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree.
The Colleges will host a ceremony at 7:30 p.m. in New York City. Hobart and William Smith President Joyce P. Jacobsen, Board Chair Craig R. Stine ’81, P’17 and Trustee Allison Morrow ’76 will present the award in person to Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane C. Ginsburg, the Morton L. Janklow Professor of Literary and Artistic Property Law at Columbia Law School. Ginsburg’s son, James Steven Ginsburg, the founder and president of Cedille Records, will join remotely from Chicago. The event will be livestreamed.
The Elizabeth Blackwell Award is conferred by Hobart and William Smith to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humanity, with two aspects of Dr. Blackwell’s own story guiding the selection of honorees: first, she was a woman whose life opened doors to other women by conspicuous professional achievement in a previously male-dominated occupation. Second, she lived a life of service, in which her talents and skills were offered to aid and benefit others. Recipients of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award are women who have achieved and women who have served.
Only the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, Ginsburg took her seat on August 10, 1993, and in the subsequent years became a feminist icon for her rulings affirming the place of gender equality and nondiscrimination in the Constitution.
Born in 1933, Ginsburg received her B.A. from Cornell University, where she graduated as the highest-ranking student in her 1954 graduating class. She went on to attend Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School. She later became a Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law and Columbia Law School, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California. In 1971, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and later served as the ACLU’s General Counsel and on its National Board of Directors. She served on the Board and Executive Committee of the American Bar Foundation, on the Board of Editors of the American Bar Association Journal, and on the Council of the American Law Institute. She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993 where she served for 27 years.
Described by NPR’s Nina Totenberg as, “the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon,” Ginsburg led the legal battle for women’s rights. Ginsburg said: “Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.” Her opinions on a number of cases changed the everyday lives of women, members of the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities. Clinton called her “a force for consensus-building,” later noting that her “life and landmark opinions moved us closer to a more perfect union. And her powerful dissents reminded us that we walk away from our Constitution’s promise at our peril.”
She was anointed the “Notorious R.G.B.,” by lawyer Shana Knizhnik, a play on the name “Notorious B.I.G.,” a rapper also from Brooklyn. The moniker stuck, and her likeness has appeared on t-shirts, mugs, magnets and action figures. She has been the subject of numerous documentaries and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2015.
Ginsburg passed away in September 2020. She was predeceased by her husband of more than 50 years, Martin Ginsburg. She is survived by their children, Jane and James, and their families. Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane, recalls that her mother’s closest cousin was Hobart alumnus Richard Bader ’54, who passed away a number of years ago. Ginsburg visited Richard at Hobart and William Smith several times, and Jane shared that Hobart and William Smith have always had a special place in the family’s hearts.
About the Elizabeth Blackwell Award
Dr. Blackwell is renowned worldwide for her achievement as the first woman doctor and for the precedent she set, both in modern medicine and opening the field of medicine to women. Dr. Blackwell’s alma mater, Geneva Medical College was a department of Geneva College, which was later renamed Hobart College and is now Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
In 1949, the Colleges celebrated the 100th anniversary of Blackwell’s graduation by presenting the Elizabeth Blackwell Centennial Award to 12 internationally famous female doctors. In 1958, the first Elizabeth Blackwell Award was given, at the 50th anniversary Convocation of William Smith College, to Gwendolyn Grant Mellon, medical missionary and founder of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti.
Since then, distinguished women from around the world have been honored with the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for outstanding service to humanity. It was presented most recently in 2015 to Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve and first woman Secretary of the Treasury. Other notable recipients include Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; the First Woman Rabbi ordained in the United States, Rabbi Sally J. Priesand; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai, P’94, P’96, Sc.D.’94; professional tennis legend Billie Jean King; and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.
Celebrating Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s 200th Birthday
In addition to the presentation of the Blackwell Award to Ginsburg, in honor of Blackwell’s 200th birthday on Feb. 3, Hobart and William Smith will host a live conversation with the author of a new dual biogrcinaphy of Dr. Blackwell and her sister, Emily, who earned her medical degree shortly after Elizabeth. Beginning at noon via Zoom, historian and author Janice P. Nimura will join the HWS community to discuss her book, The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, which is published by W.W. Norton to be released on Jan. 19. The discussion will be facilitated by Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer.
Members of the HWS community are invited to gather in the Vandervort Room for a viewing party of the presentation of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award at 7:30 p.m. that evening. The event will be hosted by students in the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN). William Smith College is a member of PLEN, a national organization dedicated to preparing collegiate women for leadership in public policy.