Ruth Bell didn’t let years of rejection, sexism and financial issues stand in the way of earning her undergraduate and master’s degrees — and she doesn’t want other women to face barriers either.
That’s why the 90-year-old trailblazer helped establish the Ruth Bell Centennial Scholarship to assist the next generation of female students who are facing their own obstacles.
“I wanted to help another woman who was in the same situation I was in, who wants to go to university,” Bell says. “The scholarship provides help for a mature woman who wants to get her degree and that’s what I was.”
The Canadian Federation of University Women (Ottawa) raised $100,000 to endow the Ruth Bell Centennial Scholarship. Bell, a member who was also the club’s local and national president, matched the amounts raised over the last several years.
The scholarship will be awarded annually, beginning this year, to a third or fourth-year female undergraduate student with high academic standing enrolled in women’s and gender studies. It will be given alternately at Carleton and the University of Ottawa, with the first scholarship valued at $5,000. A Carleton student will receive the award for the 2010/11 school year.
Sandra Campbell, a professor in the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, says the scholarship is important to the institute because it’s an emerging discipline and has fewer scholarships available than other academic studies.
“It’s a discipline that’s just over 25 to 30 years-old, and scholarships like these are particularly valuable to us,” says Campbell. “One of the ideals of women’s studies is a sense of community and collaborative efforts.”
She stresses the shared award is a reflection of the importance the institute places on creating a sense of unity.
Katharine Kelly, the institute’s acting director, adds that it was also important to Bell to include both universities in the scholarship.
“This scholarship will improve (students’) quality of life and it makes a difference to students so they can study more and work less,” she says.
The award will gain more value thanks to Bell’s ongoing generous donations.
Some women enrol in women’s studies because they’ve experienced obstacles such as gender inequalities at home, work and in everyday life, Campbell says.
“This scholarship affirms their decision to be in women’s studies in a practical sense,” she says. “I think that’s very valuable. It’s recognition and that’s always an important thing to have.”
Bell has high hopes for the future recipients of the scholarship.
“These days, university degrees are essential,” she says. “I hope (the winners) have ambitions and dreams and use this scholarship to reach those ambitions.”