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April 11, 2006


Nearing 90, Betty Horner still works in the lab

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College will award an honorary degree to B. Elizabeth Horner, who taught biology to countless young women throughout more than six decades at the college.

Horner, the Myra M. Sampson Professor Emerita of Biological Sciences, will receive the degree at a private ceremony on campus April 21, the same month she celebrates her 90th birthday. According to colleagues, although retired, Horner still comes to campus every day to perform research with a student assistant, a routine she began in 1938.

“Betty’s devotion to field work and the study of animal behavior has infused her students with similar dedication,” said Virginia Hayssen, professor of biological sciences. “Joy, kindness, generosity, modesty and grace radiate from her and warm even the coldest souls. She brings that grace to human and non-human animals alike and, in doing so, the world is a better place.”

Born April 29, 1916, Horner was fascinated by animals from early in life. As a youth, she sold her bugle to raise the money for scientific materials and expressed an interest in becoming a surgeon. However, in an era when female surgeons were unheard of, Horner chose to pursue a career as an academic biologist. Of her career, Horner once remarked that she has “loved every minute of it.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Douglass College, Horner enrolled in a master’s program at Smith and worked with her first students as a teaching fellow in zoology.

From 1938 until 1986, when Horner retired as a full professor, she taught at Smith. And her commitment to the intellectual life of her students did not end with their graduation. It is widely known that Horner keeps track of the careers of all of her students. As recently as 1997, Horner received the Joseph Grinnell Award for Excellence in Education by the American Society of Mammalogists.

Throughout her own career, Horner only spent significant amounts of time away from campus to complete a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan in 1948 and to go on research sabbaticals.

Horner’s main research interest is in understanding the complex interplay of behavioral and anatomical adaptations of small mammals to their environments. When her dissertation was published in 1954, it was hailed as a landmark look at the adaptive behavior of animals that live in trees.

As Horner’s research took her to countries such as Australia, Jordan, Kenya and Panama, she published more than 45 research articles. Eight of those articles relate to the deer mouse, research for which she is perhaps most well known.
Following her retirement, Smith established the Horner Fund for Research, which provides summer research support for students and honors a scholar whose generosity to Smith is unquantifiable.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
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