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2011 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service

2011 Spring General Meeting

Arlin M. Adams


The American Philosophical Society awarded the 2011 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Arlin M. Adams. The citation inscribed on the framed certificate that accompanies the Franklin Medal reads “in recognition of contributions to public life reflecting the best skills a lawyer can possess: leader of the bar, distinguished judge, public policy advocate, settler of disputes, generous donor of time and talent. At the American Philosophical Society, a former president and much more. Pioneer of Head Start and other public welfare programs that have improved the lives of countless children. World War II veteran. Native son of Philadelphia who has given back to his city and state throughout a 64-year legal career. A model of fairness and negotiator extraordinaire, who brings adversaries to the table and persuades them to talk because they trust him.”  The award was presented by Linda Greenhouse, Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School.

Arlin M. Adams has had a long and distinguished career of service in law and government, as well as to the American Philosophical Society.  A senior partner at Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis since 1947, Adams took leave in 1963 to serve as the Secretary of Public Welfare for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under Governor Scranton for three years.  Many of his accomplishments for the Commonwealth became models for programs at the federal level.  He started the program that later became known as Head Start nationwide, made birth control available to people on welfare, adopted functional education programs for people on welfare, and started music and art programs for mentally handicapped children and adults.  In 1969 President Nixon appointed Adams to serve as Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where he served with great distinction for 17 years and was held in the highest esteem for his impartiality.  In 1990 he was appointed Independent Counsel for the investigation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development for profiteering and influence peddling inside HUD during the Reagan administration.  In 1996 he served as Trustee in the bankruptcy of the New Era Foundation, the largest bankruptcy of a non-profit organization to date.

Judge Adams was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1979 and has served the Society in many capacities – the Class Committee, Bylaws Committee, Phillips Prize Selection Committee, 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee, Secretary, Vice President, President, and then continuing on the Finance Committee, Executive Committee, and Council.  Among his many contributions, as president Judge Adams was responsible for a concerted and organized effort to add women, minorities, under-represented fields, and international members to strengthen the membership of the Society by providing a structure to support this effort in the Society’s bylaws.

In 1906, the United States Congress authorized a commemorative medal to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin.  The medal was designed by Augustus and Louis St. Gaudens.  In 1987, the Society starting awarding the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service to honor exceptional contributions to the general welfare.

The selection committee for the Franklin Medal award consists of the Society’s president, executive officer, the three vice presidents, and the three Council members from Class 5: Baruch S. Blumberg, Mary Patterson McPherson, Clyde F. Barker, Harriet Zuckerman, John O’Malley, Joel E. Cohen, Linda Greenhouse, and Conrad K. Harper.