Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (1892-1973), a 1914 graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, was a woman far ahead of her time. She was a champion of civil rights, women's rights, children's rights, and the rights of those with disabilities long before these issues were talked about in public. Her long and tireless effort to increase understanding between Asia and America left a lasting imprint on the world.
In many ways, Buck was a pioneer who appreciated Chinese life and culture as few Westerners had done before, and she shared her provocative insights with the world. Her most widely recognized book, The Good Earth, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, offered a description of life in a Chinese peasant village and included the perspectives of women who lived and experienced everyday hardships. As a result, she changed forever the way we see Asia and the people with whom she lived and worked for more than 40 years.
Buck was also an outspoken activist who used her position and considerable influence to advance the causes to which she was so passionately dedicated. In 1949, she helped to set up an international adoption agency, Welcome House, Inc., the first interracial and international adoption agency in the world. Ultimately, Buck herself adopted several interracial children. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation, started in 1964, was dedicated to helping Amerasian children. Welcome House and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation merged in 1992.
Buck was also a founder of the East and West Association, which was dedicated to improving understanding between Asia and America. She led political opposition to Chinese exclusion legislation designed to keep Chinese immigrants out of the U.S. She was one of the few white women who took an early leadership role with the Urban League and the NAACP. Buck was also devoted to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She worked extensively on behalf of the mentally handicapped and wrote The Child Who Never Grew, a moving story about her own mentally retarded daughter, Carol. The book made a major contribution to national understanding of how disabilities affect both children and families.
Recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature (the first American woman to have been so honored) as well as the Pulitzer Prize; inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame; author of more than 70 books; recognized as the most-widely translated writer today (in more than 60 languages); humanitarian; visionary; and realizer of possibilities and promises for a peaceful future—this was Pearl Buck. She was a remarkable woman who did much to help shape a sympathetic and informed American understanding of China. She left us a timeless legacy—a legacy which Randolph-Macon Woman's College celebrates with this award.
Valerie Harper portrayed Pearl Buck in a one-woman play, All Under Heaven. After premiering at Thoresen Theatre on the R-MWC campus in 1998, the play had a successful run off-Broadway in New York City and in Florida.