Pearl Birnbaum (1907-1993), a graduate of Radcliffe College, was wife to David Hurwitz (physician, professor, and researcher) and mother of four who had a broad vision of how she wanted to impact the world. One of her sons was born with intellectual disabilities and she quickly became a leader in the movement to provide services and support for children with disabilities and their families, especially in the Massachusetts area.
Pearl’s accomplishments were many. She was the founding President of the Arc of Massachusetts. In the 1950s, she was appointed by two governors in Massachusetts to a special legislative commission where her advocacy resulted in a state-wide requirement for public education for children with developmental disabilities. (Harvard Medical School, Volume 3, 2001; Radcliffe Quarterly February, 1957)
Pearl was a true inspiration. Her grandson and former board member of the Gold Foundation, Jonathan Seelig, remembers stories of how she sought to improve the world through education, philanthropy, leadership and activism. She was a champion for the needs of vulnerable populations and fought for legislation to protect and bolster the lives of individuals who by virtue of physical, social or economic circumstances, required services. In her poignant writing about the experience raising and advocating for her Stephen, who had developmental disabilities, she wrote, “…we know that if our way of life is to survive, every individual must be counted as an individual and accorded his place in the sun…..For every person who is discounted, by so much do we allow for the spread of discontent; for every person whom we help to attain his rightful stature, by so much do we prevent the spread of strife.” (Harvard Medical School, Volume 3, 2001; Radcliffe Quarterly February, 1957)
Through a gift from Dr. Ronald Arky, who as a young doctor was greatly influenced by his time spent with Pearl and her husband, The Pearl Birnbaum Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award will be presented annually to a woman who exemplifies humanism and has advanced, through her scholarship, advocacy, leadership or work, the well-being of vulnerable or underserved populations in the health care arena.
The award winner will be presented with a plaque and a check for $1,000 from The Arnold P. Gold Foundation. The Foundation will cover the cost of the awardee’s expenses to attend the ceremony.
Read Pearl Hurwitz’s inspiring essay, originally published in the 1957 Radcliffe Quarterly: The mentally retarded child — changing community attitudes.
Learn about the current and past recipients of the Pearl Hurwitz Humanism in Healthcare Award.