8 July 2021 • Alums A Life of Achievement and Service: Honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The late Supreme Court Associate Justice is the 41st recipient of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award.

During her confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate in 1993, the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

In honor of the transformative steps she took over the course of her remarkable life to affect such real, enduring change, Hobart and William Smith Colleges posthumously recognized Ginsburg with the Elizabeth Blackwell Award on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Presented on the 200th birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree, the award celebrates Ginsburg’s extraordinary achievements and public service, including authorship of landmark decisions impacting women’s rights and gender discrimination.

At the Cornell Club in New York City, Hobart and William Smith President Joyce P. Jacobsen and Board Chair Craig R. Stine ’81, P’17 presented 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, joined remotely from Chicago.

Before reflecting on her mother’s work as an advocate, Jane Ginsburg noted: “We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of tributes to our mother, and we have not been able to participate in the acceptance of all of them, but this one was very special…not only for the remarkable graduate that it commemorates, and for the extremely distinguished prior recipients…but also because of a very deep family connection to Hobart College [through] my mother’s beloved…cousin Richard Eugene Bader, Hobart Class of 1954.”

The reasoning and principles behind Justice Ginsburg’s decisions and dissents “inspired younger generations” and turned her “into the notorious icon she became in later years,” said her son James Ginsburg. “That in turn gave her a platform for sharing her message of shared responsibility between the sexes, so that no one has to be held back by the old stereotypes that she battled as an advocate.”

In a video tribute recorded for the award ceremony, Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent focusing on the Supreme Court, said, “I think it’s very fitting that the Elizabeth Blackwell Award is going to Justice Ginsburg, for she too was a pioneer in American life.”

Totenberg, who developed a close friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg beginning in the 1970s, said of the late Justice: “It’s really hard to overestimate the profound effect she’s had on the lives of American women. As the architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in the 1960s and ’70s, she quite simply changed the way the world is for us.”

The Elizabeth Blackwell Award is conferred by Hobart and William Smith to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humanity. Dr. Blackwell is renowned 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.

Blackwell “represents the very best of what we can achieve when we work for the common good,” said Board Chair Craig Stine, drawing parallels between Blackwell’s public service and that of Ginsburg, who “like Dr. Blackwell was a trailblazer and pioneer…[who] sought to use her skills to make the world a better place.”

Noting the models set by Blackwell and Ginsburg, HWS President Jacobsen concluded the evening with a call to the students watching “to do all you can to follow their examples and devote yourselves whole heartedly to a cause and commitment that will make a difference.”