This award supports undergraduate students for global learning experiences abroad in summer.
Ruth Crawford Mitchell, founder and Director Emerita of the University of Pittsburgh’s Nationality Rooms Program, was born in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey on June 2, 1890, an only child, and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Both her parents had international experiences – her mother studied art; her father pursued graduate studies. In fact, they met in Stuttgart, Germany, and married in the United States after her father had established himself in business. As soon as Ruth was old enough, she joined them on holidays abroad. In St. Louis, she attended Mary Institute, an all-girls school, and was captain of the basketball team. While at Vassar College, she and a friend went to England to meet her parents and to participate in the festivities during the coronation of King George V. The trip also included Norway, Finland and Tsarist Russia. The pair made their way back to the United States via the Trans-Siberian Railroad and steamboat. The gloating juniors returned to Vassar a month into the school term (with permission, of course). After graduating from Vassar College in 1912, she received a master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis in 1915.
During World War I, she served as National YWCA Secretary organizing International Institutes for foreign-born young women. From 1919 to 1921, she worked in Czechoslovakia conducting social surveys of Prague and organizing Czechoslovakia’s first school of social work with Dr. Alice G. Masaryk, daughter of the president of Czechoslovakia. While in Prague with two other Vassar graduates, it occurred to the three women that two years of study at Vassar would greatly benefit the Czech and Slovak women training for positions in the Czechoslovak Red Cross. Eventually a donor was found who endowed a scholarship for that purpose. In 1920 the first five Czechoslovak women arrived at Vassar to begin their work. Vassar continued to provide at least one scholarship a year to a Czechoslovak student until 1948. In 1980, Mrs. Mitchell published a memoir of Alice Garrigue Masaryk (1879-1966) through Pittsburgh’s University Center for International Studies.
Mrs. Mitchell came to Pittsburgh in 1922 and two years later began to lecture on the history of immigration in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Economics. In 1926, Chancellor John G. Bowman asked her to coordinate work on the interior of the Cathedral of Learning. It was from this task that the Nationality Rooms Program eventually emerged. She organized committees which raised the funds and worked with the architects at the University and abroad until 16 Nationality Rooms were completed by 1943. The rooms are decorated in authentic period styles of the nationality groups which helped to settle the Pittsburgh region, and are gifts from those ethnic communities to the University.
During World War II, she was granted a leave of absence from the University to serve with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, first in the Middle East, then in London and Germany. En route to Egypt, she wrote “You will hold together and work for the Rooms and the University and for good will among men” and from Egypt, she cabled “Every good wish to each good friend. Working together, although of different nationalities, is one way to secure the peace. Let us work at this art until we meet again.”
Mrs. Mitchell returned to Pittsburgh in 1946 and oversaw the completion of three more classrooms. In addition, the Nationality Room committees focused their efforts on raising funds to assist the rapidly developing international aspects of the University curriculum by purchasing books in other languages for Hillman library. In 1948, they began to raise scholarship money for University of Pittsburgh students to study abroad. In 1939, Mrs. Mitchell met with a group of women, one from each of the active Nationality Room Committees, to exchange information about the rooms. Out of that meeting came the Women’s International Club, which remains in existence and has funded many scholarships for University women undergraduates to study abroad.
After her retirement in 1956, Mrs. Mitchell served as Director Emerita of the Nationality Rooms Program and as consultant to the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs at the University of Pittsburgh. Between 1969 and 1978, she conceived and planned the Tercentenary Celebration to honor the first woman in history to receive a university degree, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, MA, PhD, 1678, University of Padua, Italy.
Mrs. Mitchell has been decorated by five governments. Her many honors include the Order of the White Lion from the Republic of Czechoslovakia, and the David Glick Award for distinguished services in the field of international affairs from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. In 1955 she was selected a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. In 1966, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the University of Pittsburgh. In 1972, she received the Chancellor’s Medal from Pittsburgh Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar for “a long and distinguished contribution to the University of Pittsburgh.” Mrs. Mitchell was an Honoree at the Courthouse Gallery Forum program “Discovery in the 70’s.” She was made an Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1979. She died in Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh on February 7, 1984, after an extended illness at age 93.