The University of Chicago News Office
June 7, 1996 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421
jschonwa@uchicago.edu
 

Katharine Graham to be Awarded Benton Medal

Katharine Graham, chairman of the executive committee of the Washington Post Company and a University alumna and Trustee, will receive the University’s Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service at the College Convocation, which will be held at 10a.m. Saturday, June8, in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

The Benton Medal, created by the University Trustees in 1967 to honor Sen.William Benton on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as chairman and publisher of Encyclopaedia Britannica, is presented “to honor the most extraordinary service to the field of education and to the University.” The medal was last awarded in 1976.

Frequently listed among the world’s most influential and important women, Graham is credited with elevating the Washington Postto the status of one of the country’s most respected newspapers when she took it over upon the death of her husband in 1963. As a publisher, she put the newspaper’s reputation on the line and challenged the Nixon administration with the Post’s investigation of the Watergate scandal, for which the newspaper eventually won the Pulitzer Prize.

“What you’ve got to understand about Kay is that she’s got moral vision,” said longtime friend Truman Capote in a 1973 interview with Women’s Wear Daily. “Watergate got through to her. Without her, the Watergate [coverage] couldn’t have happened ... It disturbed her a great deal, but she never wavered. She said to me, ‘I’m going to jail, or they are.’”

Graham has long been an advocate for a free, responsible press. In accepting the University’s Communicator of the Year Award in 1969, Graham implored the press, universities, parents and teachers to listen to and educate themselves about students’ outcries and for journalists to “look beyond the latest sit-in" in reporting the issues of the day. She also praised the way a 15-day student sit-in was handled by then-President Edward Levi, who refused to call police and instead let the students disperse of their own accord.

Graham was chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company from 1973 to 1993. She was chief executive officer of the company from 1973 to 1991 and served as president from 1963 to 1973. She was publisher of the Washington Post from 1969 to 1979. Her father, Eugene Meyer, purchased the Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933; her husband, Philip Graham, became publisher in 1946.

In addition to the Washington Post, the company owns Newsweek; a newspaper in Everett, Wash.; six television stations; cable systems in 16 states; the Kaplan Educational Centers; and the on-line information service Legi-Slate.

Graham came to Chicago in 1936 after attending Vassar for two years. She received her A.B. from the University in 1938. She then worked as a reporter for the SanFrancisco News and later joined the staff of the Washington Post, working in the editorial and circulation departments. She married in 1940 and was a homemaker for the next two decades, during which she raised four children. Her son Donald Graham is the current chairman and chief executive officer of the Washington Post Company and publisher of the Washington Post.

The Benton Medal was first awarded in 1968 to William Benton. The medal was presented in 1972 to Paul Hoffman, who, as administrator of the Marshall Plan, engineered Europe’s economic recovery after World WarII. In 1976 it was awarded to Hermon Dunlap Smith, former chairman and chief executive officer of the Marsh and McLennan insurance firm, who was known for his lifelong support of social-service work both at the University and in the community.

 

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