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Home » Discover Rackham » Legacy of Levi Barbour

The Barbour Scholarships are among the oldest and most prestigious awards granted by the University of Michigan, offering funding to female students from Asia since 1917. They are named for their founder, Levi Barbour, who received both his undergraduate and law degrees from U-M in the 1860s. He became a prominent lawyer and Detroit real estate developer and served as Regent of the university from 1896-1902 and 1906-1912. Travelling in Asia in the early part of the 20th century, Mr. Barbour was impressed by the remarkable contributions being made by three women in China and Japan who had been trained in medicine at the University of Michigan. Out of that trip came his plan to leave an endowment to assist Asian women to prepare academically at U-M for positions of status and leadership in their own countries, and to facilitate a closer understanding between Eastern and Western cultures.

Income from the Barbour Scholarship Endowment provides funding each year for students from the area formerly known as The Orient (a region that today spans from the Middle East to East Asia) who are enrolled in any of the University’s graduate programs. The first scholars came in 1914 to live with the Barbour family and learn English before beginning their studies, and the program was endowed in 1917. Since then, over 700 students have received the award. Barbour alumnae have played important roles in the political, educational, industrial, and social development in their home countries, and they have made important contributions to their scholarly fields in the United States as well.

Over the decades, the Barbour Scholars at times have created a small and supportive community on campus. In the 1950s and 1960s, a faculty advisor for the Barbour Scholars held monthly teas for scholars on campus, and as early as 1929, an annual newsletter updated scholars on the careers of alumni and scholarly achievements of students on campus. Today, an annual reception welcoming new scholars is attended by current students who were past recipients and local alumni, as well as faculty advisors of students receiving the award. Currently, around 200 Barbour Scholars reside in the U.S. and 261 can be found abroad. They are faculty members, senators, researchers, and industry leaders. Recent outreach efforts to communicate with Barbour alumnae are leading to programs to create a student/alumni community and events around the 2017 Barbour Scholar Centennial.

A former Barbour Scholar shared:

The Scholarship provided important financial support to me. But in addition to that, it signaled to me that U-M valued my talents and research. I received the Scholarship fairly early in my career as a graduate student at U-M, and the vote of confidence meant a lot to me. Furthermore, as a foreign student, I did not always feel welcomed by the institution. The Scholarship conveyed a rare, welcoming message to me as an immigrant student.

Ming-Cheng Lo, Professor of Sociology, University of California – Davis

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