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Bilder Wins Inaugural Faculty Prize for Scholarship

The award recognizes Bilder's contributions to female history and the scholarly excellence of her book on Eliza Harriot.


Founders Professor Mary Sarah Bilder has been awarded the inaugural Boston College Law School Faculty Prize for Excellence in Scholarship for her new book, Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution (University of Virginia Press, 2022).

The new award was created in order to recognize, on an annual basis, the extraordinary achievements in scholarship of the BC Law faculty. The criteria for Bilder’s selection, according to Associate Dean for Faculty and Global Programs Katie Young, included the “novelty, originality, clarity, soundness of methodology, potential interdisciplinarity or cross-field collaborations of the work, theoretical or practical importance, and other features of excellence.” 

In the book, Bilder explores how the radical new idea of “female genius” was at work in the 1780s, during the crucial time of the US Constitution’s drafting. Undertaking extensive archival and tracing work, she examines how the female educator, Eliza Harriot Barons O’Connor (about whom little, to date, has been written), delivered a University of Pennsylvania lecture attended by George Washington as he and other Constitutional Convention delegates gathered in Philadelphia. This performance, speculates Bilder, likely inspired the gender-neutral language of the Constitution. 

“The book makes major contributions to broader history, and in particular, women’s history, and we are delighted to recognize the work, alongside a slew of other recent scholarly contributions by Professor Bilder to this field,” said BC Law Interim Dean Diane Ring. “We congratulate her on this well-deserved honor.”

Bilder wrote an essay on this period for classroom use, “The Age of the Constitution”, in the collection introduced by the late Justice Ginsburg, With Liberty and Justice for All? The Constitution in the Classroom (eds. Robert Cohen, Maeva Marcus, Steve Steinbach, Oxford University Press, 2022). Other recent contributions include an important article on four Native Nation representatives whose 1787 presence in Philadelphia influenced the Constitution. 

In addition, those interested in Professor Bilder’s award-winning digital contributions can access the website on civil rights lawyer Robert Morris, co-designed with librarians Laurel Davis, Abraham Bauer, and Nick Szydlowski, and the digital database, Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies, co-created with Professor Emerita Sharon O’Connor. 

For more on Female Genius and a Q&A with Professor Bilder, please see our related BC Law Magazine story.