April 19, 2002

Lawrence '36 Shares Life Tale

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When Margaret Morgan Lawrence ’36 began her collegiate career at Cornell in 1932, she was not allowed to live on campus in the dormitories because she is African-American.

Instead, she hired herself out as a domestic servant to cover the costs of living.

Despite these challenges, Lawrence has since made numerous accomplishments in the world of child psychiatry and has set an example for African-American youth pursuing higher education.

She is author of Young Inner City Families and is the recipient of the Cornell Black Alumna Award.


Lawrence will return to the University this weekend as a featured speaker in “Diversity Dialogues,” a week and a half long, campus-wide program fostering discussion on multiculturalism in the United States.

Sponsored by the office of the vice provost of undergraduate education and the office of the vice provost for diversity and faculty development, the Diversity Dialogue program began yesterday and will conclude on April 30. The agenda includes presentations by various authors and academics regarding issues such as racial, ethnic and sexual diversity.

Partially inspired by results gathered from freshman surveys expressing an interest in diversity discourse on campus, Diversity Dialogues was created to foster thought on race, racism and diversity.

“We are becoming an increasingly multicultural society with the greatest growth in the college-age population over the next dozen or so years coming from students of color,” said Robert L. Harris Jr., vice provost for diversity and faculty development.

The arrival of Lawrence, the featured speaker and much-anticipated guest, has elicited excitement from many members of the Cornell community including both students and faculty. Lawrence’s lifetime accomplishments received public notice in 1988 when her daughter, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, completed her mother’s biography entitled Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer.

“This fall, I was thinking about that biography which I had read years ago and through an alum, discovered that [Lawrence] was alive, vigorous and energetic,” said Isaac Kramnick, vice provost of undergraduate education. “I thought how important it would be for the University to honor her. So I invited her to come for several days to meet and talk with students.”

During her stay in Ithaca, Lawrence will make a variety of appearances on campus.

One such event will occur next week as she plans to meet a freshman writing seminar class whose reading list included the chapter from her biography chronicling her years at Cornell.

“My students are all going to the lecture,” said Prof. Carol Kammen, the N. C. Farr professor of American history and culture, the lecturer of the writing seminar. “I think it’s a great privilege for them.”

Lawrence will deliver her lecture entitled, “My Life: Cornell and Afterwards” on April 22 at 4:30 pm in Goldwin Smith Hall D.

Archived article by Ellen Miller