MHC alum wins Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy

“I think philanthropy is part of one’s thinking, the idea of compassion of giving back,” says Shelby Baier White ’59. “I would hate to see philanthropy become something that is totally obsessed with measurable results near a term.”

By Xiomara Núñez '20

The idea of not helping others is unthinkable to Shelby Baier White, a 1959 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, who has been named the recipient of the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in honor of her generosity and vision.

According to the organization’s profile of her, White was inspired by the lasting impression of her childhood. Her immigrant parents spurred her introduction to the value of empathy, selflessness and dedication, she said in her acceptance address. “My father would basically admire people who were charitable,” she said.

The award honors industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic achievements by giving international recognition to philanthropists who have made a significant impact, whether internationally, in a specific field, or to a specific institution or group of people. White was one of just eight recognized this year.

White came to philanthropy after a career as a financial journalist. The New York Times and Forbes have featured her financial articles, and in 1992 she published her book “What Every Woman Should Know About Her Husband’s Money.” With Elizabeth Moynihan, she established the Leon Levy Foundation, which focuses on education, libraries, museums, archaeology, parks, the sciences, and the arts and humanities. The foundation has supported Harvard University, New York University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

White’s support of Mount Holyoke includes significant donations to the Art Museum, including the magnificent “Gnomon’s Parade (Late)” by Christopher Wilmarth. She has also volunteered on College campaigns and with the Alumnae Association and was a long time member of the Art Museum Advisory Board.

“I think it’s very important to become involved in an institution,” White said in her speech. “Then you may discover the needs of that institution that you might not have otherwise thought about.”

White, who studied history as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke, asked, “Why doesn’t everybody who can do it, do it?”