Dubbed a “rock star of the world of Shakespeare,” Gail Kern Paster served in the prestigious post of director of the Folger Shakespeare Library from 2002 to 2011. As director, Paster strengthened the Folger’s educational outreach, particularly through digital initiatives. She oversaw the acquisition of rare documents of the Elizabethan era and raised more than $28 million for collections and renovation of the library’s historic building. During her tenure, the audience for public programs grew by more than 25 percent. Paster’s scholarly work has won her fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson, Andrew W. Mellon and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Upon her retirement from the Folger, Paster was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II with the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her distinguished service to the arts and strengthening the ties between the United States and Great Britain.
In 1962, the trustees of Smith College voted to establish the Smith College Medal. It is given annually to those alumnae who, in the judgment of the trustees, exemplify in their lives and work the true purpose of a liberal arts education.