Alabama Academy of Honor

Ruth Lawson Hanson

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 1976.

Ruth Lawson Hanson, the leader of the fight against diabetes in Alabama, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1900. In 1936 she married Victor Henry Hanson, the publisher of the Birmingham News-Age Herald and The Huntsville Times. When Mr. Hanson died of a heart attack nine years later, she was named the chairman of the newspapers' board of directors by a provision of his will; she held that post until the papers were sold in 1956.

Before she married Mr. Hanson, Mrs. Hanson had only an intelligent lay-person's interest in diabetes. But Mr. Hanson suffered acutely form the disease, and after his death, she resolved to dedicate herself to the search for a cure. In the years that followed, she became a member of the board of the Birmingham Lay Diabetes Society and participated in all of its programs--particularly in the annual diabetes detection drives and the effort to send diabetic children to Camp Seale Harris in Citronelle. For more than 25 years she purchased free insulin for the indigent of Jefferson County.

But undoubtedly her biggest contribution to the fight against diabetes was made in 1967, when she gave 500,000 to endow a chair in Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. In the years since its creation, this chair has made the Medical Center nationally prominent in the field of diabetes research, and in Mrs. Hanson's estimation, has brought closer the day when the elusive cure will be found.

To recognize her years of extraordinary devotion to diabetes research and to salute the magnanimity of her gift, the University of Alabama made Mrs. Hanson an honorary doctor of humanities in 1969. In 1971 the Medical Association of the State of Alabama acted similarly, when it gave her its William Crawford Gorgas Award for "philanthropy and leadership." And in 1973 the American Diabetes Association recognized her importance to its national effort by giving her its Certificate of Outstanding Affiliate Service, the highest award that can be given to a layman in the field of diabetes research.

But even admired awards could not give her the pleasure that she took in the opening of the Diabetes Research and Education Hospital in 1973. The completion of the hospital was her cherished dream, when she helped to establish the Diabetes Trust Fund to raise money for its construction. Since 1973 the dream has been a reality, and the 10 million dollar structure has housed the only diabetes speciality hospital in the United States.

Even with the building almost finished, Mrs. Hanson did not consider her civic duty to be done. She had always worked for causes besides diabetes research in the past, and she continued to do so. In particular, she continued to support the young people whom she called "her students"--and whom she helped to attend such colleges as Auburn, Birmingham Southern, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Berry College in Mt. Berry, Georgia. She also served as a life member of the board of trustees of Birmingham Southern, a life member of the University Hospital Auxiliary, and an honorary member of the Birmingham chapter of Quota International. In the time that remains she worked for the Women's Civic Club of Birmingham, the Women's Committee of 100, and the Women's Auxiliary of the Birmingham Salvation Army.

For relaxation, Mrs. Hanson belonged to the Mountain Brook Club, the Birmingham Country Club, the Downtown Club, and the Relay House. She was also a member of the Highlands Methodist Church of Birmingham for a number of years. She is now deceased.