The Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service was created in 1964 and is the highest honor given to Smithsonian staff for exceptional service over a long period of time. On December 4, 2014, Secretary G. Wayne Clough presented this award to Pam Henson for a lifetime of exceptional service to the Smithsonian Institution. She began her career here in 1973 and has been in service to the Institution for 41 years. After a brief stint conducting visitor surveys, she became a young historian in the Smithsonian Institution Archives where she was responsible for research, writing, and interviewing staff to better document the history of the Smithsonian and the history of American science. In 1993 she became the Director of the Institutional History Division and has continued to build a substantial body of knowledge about the Smithsonian and its role in American science and culture.
Along the way, she has maintained a very high professional profile in several organizations. She has been a professor at George Washington University and at American University. Her publication record includes well over one hundred different contributions to books, journals, exhibitions and web sites. She has served as mentor to countless interns and graduate students, and in addition her expertise, has been recognized with several other awards including the Forrest C. Pogue Award for her contributions to oral history and the Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in the teaching of history of science.
Having solicited background for other award nominations, I want to share some quotes from her colleagues that reflect the enormity of her long time service:
- Marcel C. LaFollette, a Research Associate with the Archives and long time colleague of Pam’s, stated, “Her research and writing about the history of the Institution is substantial, and is characterized by an unflinchingly honest examination of what can sometimes seem, from inside as well as outside, an unfathomable organization, a hybrid conglomeration of goals, missions, museums, carousels, world-class scientific research, zoos, conservation reserves, and brilliant people. She has celebrated the eccentricities and accomplishments of the staff, documented the evolution of successive administrations, and above all, insisted that the record for all be accurate, be based on the archival evidence and preserve some sense of what it has been like to ‘be’ part of … the Smithsonian history.”
- Brian Daniels, another Research Associate with the Archives, and now on the faculty of University of Pennsylvania, said, “I came to the Smithsonian’s Institutional History Division as a pre-doctoral fellow in 2007, and have since had the privilege to have Dr. Henson as a mentor and guide as I completed my dissertation. Indeed, I am fortunate to have continued this relationship. Dr. Henson’s diverse research interests, record of careful scholarship, and tireless mentoring of researchers—from graduate students to tenured faculty—have established her as one of the most prominent living scholars in the history of the sciences.”
Dr. Clough acknowledged all of these traits and more. In his remarks at the medal ceremony he said, “I often delve into the rich history of the Smithsonian, for speeches, writing, or for my own curiosity. As Secretary, I cannot make a factual mistake in public or private – Pam is there to keep me on track, and she’s done that for numerous Secretaries across the years. I count on Pam because the information she gives me is always detailed, reliable, and fascinating… More importantly to those who work with her day in and out, she is a trusted colleague, mentor and friend. … For her years of dedicated service to the Smithsonian, and for bringing the history of this American treasure to life every day, I am pleased to give the Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service to Pam Henson.”
From all of her colleagues here in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, we send our congratulations and kudos to Pam on this very special recognition.