President Emerita Schmidt Leaves Enduring Legacy

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ruth Schmidt, Agnes Scott College’s first female president and an early champion of campus diversity and international study, passed away May 24 at the age of 79.
Ruth Schmidt
A service in celebration of her life will be held at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, 611 Medlock Road, on Thursday, May 27 at 2 p.m. A reception will follow in the church’s fellowship hall. Plans are underway for a service at Agnes Scott in June.

Schmidt served as president of Agnes Scott from 1982 until 1994, ushering in many changes at the college. Among her priorities as president were international education for students and increased diversity among faculty and students. During her tenure the Julia Thompson Smith Chaplaincy was established.

Schmidt created Agnes Scott’s Global Awareness program in the mid-1980s (before study abroad was as prevalent as it is today) to provide most students with travel to less-visited countries outside the traditional European destinations. Agnes Scott College’s Board of Trustees also welcomed its first female chair, Elizabeth H. Cameron, during Schmidt’s time as president. Thanks to a gift from Cameron, Agnes Scott created The Ruth Schmidt Scholars Program in 2008 to honor Schmidt’s passion for international study by providing scholarships for students to study abroad with an emphasis on social justices and gender equality. The first Schmidt Scholar, Darah Tabrum ’11, studied in Nicaragua this past semester.

Always a devoted advocate for change and social justice, Schmidt didn’t slow down after her retirement from Agnes Scott in 1994. She traveled extensively, often to participate in aid efforts in developing countries. She was active in Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) and was a member of a group of protesters that met weekly in Colony Square since 2002 to protest the United States’ military involvement in the Middle East.

Schmidt was also known for her tireless commitment to peace. When asked in a 2009 article what it meant to be a pacifist, Schmidt responded, “Well, you don’t believe in war as an answer to anything, and you’re basically non-violent with anything from your personal life to international relations. It does not mean being passive. My parents were brought up Mennonites. My father was a conscientious objector to World War I, but he became pretty hawkish by the second World War.”

Schmidt was a woman of strong faith and a leader in her church, serving on North Decatur Presbyterian Church’s Peace and Justice Committee. She was instrumental in founding a prayer circle, Prayers for Peace, which meets weekly at Wesley Woods, a retirement community in Decatur.

Before her 12-year tenure as Agnes Scott’s president, Schmidt had carved out a distinguished career in education. She began her teaching career as a high school Spanish and English teacher in Minnesota in 1952 and went on to be a professor of Spanish at Mary Baldwin College in 1955. She joined the State University of New York at Albany in 1962 as an assistant professor of Spanish, eventually rising to dean of humanities in 1973. She went on to serve as provost and professor of Spanish at Wheaton College in Massachusetts from 1978-1982.

Schmidt graduated from Augsburg College summa cum laude in 1952 with a B.A. in English and minors in Spanish and library science. She received her M.A. in Spanish in 1955 from the University of Missouri and her Ph.D. in Spanish in 1962 from the University of Illinois.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Agnes Scott College’s Schmidt Scholars program, North Decatur Presbyterian Church, Augsburg College’s Women’s Resource Center, and Columbia Theological Seminary’s Christian Spirituality program.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.