'Seed of Sarah' author Judith Magyar Isaacson, former Bates dean, honored by Maine Women's Hall of Fame

Judith Magyar Isaacson of Auburn, author of the acclaimed Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor and a champion of women’s rights at Bates College during the 1970s, is one of this year’s two inductees into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.

Isaacson, a native of Hungary and a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Hessisch Lichtenau (a Buchenwald satellite camp), is known nationally for “Seed of Sarah” and for the work in human rights education she has done in light of her World War II experiences.

Sharon H. Abrams, longtime executive director of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, in Waterville, is the other Maine woman to be honored during the hall’s 15th induction ceremony, scheduled for March 20 in Jewett Hall, University of Maine at Augusta. The event is held every March to coincide with Women’s History Month.

A Silver Tea honoring the inductees will be held at 2 p.m. Contributions will be accepted for a scholarship program run by the Maine Federation of Business & Professional Women, which co-sponsors the Hall of Fame with the Futurama Foundation and the university. The U.S. Postal Service will also hold a special stamp cancellation for the Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony for Abrams and Isaacson will follow.

As a Holocaust survivor, Judith Magyar Isaacson has built an exceptional human rights advocacy upon her experiences as a witness of genocide. Seed of Sarah (University of Illinois Press, 1991) has been acclaimed for its feminist perspective on the Nazi atrocities, and Isaccson has lectured widely on the Holocaust, civil liberties and equal rights.

Isaacson advanced equal rights for women at two influential educational institutions in Maine. As dean of women and dean of students at Bates from 1969 to 1977, she was instrumental in ending discriminatory practices – eliminating, for example, separate and unequal codes of conduct for men and women. (In the college’s in the 1969-70 student handbook, two pages of rules applied to men vs. eight for women.) She continued to support women’s rights as a member of the Bowdoin College Board of Overseers from 1984 to 1996.

Isaacson’s book has been a best seller for the University of Illinois Press and for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Still in print, Seed of Sarah has appeared in German and Hungarian translations and was adapted by Maine composer Mark Polishook for an opera and subsequent film that is now in international distribution.

Isaacson received the prestigious Hargraves Preservation of Freedom Prize, established at Bowdoin College to stimulate appreciation of Constitutional rights and freedoms; and the Deborah Morton Award from Westbrook College, now University of New England, presented to women who have achieved high distinction in career and service or shown exceptional leadership in public life.

Isaacson graduated from Bates College in 1965 with a bachelor’s in mathematics, and earned a master’s in mathematics from Bowdoin. She holds honorary doctorates from Bates, Colby College and the University of New England. She and her husband, attorney Irving Isaacson, reside in Auburn. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

Sharon H. Abrams has been executive director of the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers (MCH) since 1992, and previously taught in, then directed, MCH’s Teen Parent School Program. The Home, a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to “build and strengthen families and their children,” celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1999.

The Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs established the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990, to honor women who have made an outstanding contribution to improving opportunities for all Maine women.

The three criteria for induction are, first, that the woman’s achievements have had a statewide impact; second, that her achievements have significantly improved the lives of women in Maine; and third, that her contribution has enduring value for women. Nominations for induction are reviewed by an independent panel of judges.

For more information about the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame, contact Sally Ann Parks, chair, at 207-453-6004 or P.O. Box 84, Hinckley ME 04944.

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