Bucks County’s Pearl S. Buck Foundation wants your help naming a ‘Woman of Influence’

Pearl Buck appears in the study of her Philadelphia home

At her desk in the study of her townhouse in Philadelphia, Pearl Buck looks at a bound volume of the magazine Asia, containing her first published work, in the May 1925 issue, June 1967. It was titled, ''A Chinese Woman Speaks.'' (AP Photo)

If you could choose an influential woman to be honored with an international award, who would it be?

That’s what the Pearl S. Buck Foundation is asking. For the first time since it launched its Woman of Influence Award in 1979, the Bucks County-based foundation is asking the public to nominate candidates to be honored later this spring.

The Pearl S. Buck House in Perkasie, Pa. (Courtesy of Pearl S. Buck Foundation)

The Woman of Influence award recognizes someone who embodies the humanitarian goals of Buck, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (“The Good Earth”) who spent much of her life advocating for civil rights and international child adoption. She died in 1973.

Past recipients have included politicians, writers, artists, and entertainers, including very recognizable names like Hillary Clinton, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, writer Toni Morrison, and singer Pearl Bailey. The list also includes less-recognized names like Cynthia Rufe, a U.S. District Court judge in Philadelphia; Pamela Rainey Lawler, the founder of Philabundance; and Julie Henning, one of several fostered and adopted children that were raised by Buck.

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Women of Influence award recipient Toni Morrison speaks at the 1994 award ceremony. (Provided by Pearl S. Buck Foundation)

“Julie’s a little bit of a local celebrity, but she’s relatively unknown. But she has a really important story to tell,” said Susan Savage, vice president of development at the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. “She wrote a book – she’s an accomplished author just like her foster mother – and she uses her time and energy to spread the word about Amerasian adoption. That’s her life’s work.”

The award does not come with a cash prize. The foundation seeks to recognize and amplify the work of the recipients with the award and its gala ceremony, which is typically staged at the Welcome House, part of the Buck estate in Perkasie, Pa., where the foundation is headquartered. In the event that the honoree cannot travel to Bucks County, the award ceremony is brought to them, for example in the case of Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines.

The award was not given to anybody in 2022, in part due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and also to have time to develop a new nomination process that broadens the pool of candidates. Anyone around the world with access to the internet can fill out an online application to nominate a woman of influence.

The applicant must provide a short biography of the nominee, a list of previous awards, and an essay supported by news clippings and documentation explaining why this person merits the award.

“We feel like our committee, which did an excellent job these past 40-plus years nominating women, did a phenomenal job. But we feel like we might be missing someone that we haven’t recognized,” Savage said. “A lesson almost everybody learned from COVID was that we’re truly a global community. We’re a global organization. So we really should be asking the public for their opinion on this.”

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The application process was soft-launched on the foundation’s website a month ago without any publicity, and so far has not received any submissions. With this week’s public announcement, Savage hopes to attract enough submissions to select a final honoree who will be feted later this year, likely in May.

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