Human Rights Society announces inaugural “Ona Judge Award” recipients

UNIVERSITY Park, Pa. – The Human Rights Society, a joint student organization at Penn State Law in University Park and the School of International Affairs, announced the first recipients of the Ona Judge Award for Human Rights.

Award recipients are selected by the members of the HRS for their efforts to champion the cause of human rights in their personal and professional lives and to represent communities that are often the target of human-rights abuses, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC); women; and LGBTQ+ communities.

The award is named for Judge, who was born into slavery on the Mount Vernon plantation of George and Martha Washington. At the age of 10, Judge was trained to work as Martha Washington’s personal attendant and companion. When George Washington was elected to the presidency, Judge was taken to Philadelphia with the new president. Throughout the next decade, Judge worked as the assistant to the First Lady, enabling some of her successes in that position.

On May 21, 1796, while the Washingtons’ Philadelphia household was preparing to travel to Mount Vernon for the summer, Judge walked out of the house while the family was eating dinner. She was able to make her way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for refuge with the assistance of the Black and abolitionist communities, living the remainder of her life in New Hampshire — free, but a fugitive. When she died in New Hampshire on Feb. 25, 1848, at the age of 75, she was still legally the property of George Washington’s step-grandchild.

“Ona Judge is a woman who has been lost in history for far too long. While we all know the name of the couple that owned her, finally, the world is starting to learn her name too,” said Jordan Rhone, a third-year student in the juris doctor program at Penn State Law, treasurer of the Human Rights Society, and founder of the Ona Judge Award. “Nearly 175 years after her death, we are proud to create the first award to be named in honor of the relentless—and free—Ona Judge.”

The inaugural recipients of the Ona Judge Award for Human Rights are:

  • JerriAnne Boggis, Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire executive director, awarded for promoting awareness and appreciation of Black history and culture
  • Eleanor Brown, professor of law and international affairs at Penn State Law/SIA, awarded for her activism and allyship for marginalized identities, both in and outside academia
  • Dr. Rachel Levine, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, awarded for advancing equitable healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and for trans advocacy
  • Christine Penn, trans activist, awarded for advocating and educating on behalf of the trans community
  • Amol Sinha, ACLU of New Jersey executive director, awarded for defending constitutional rights and advancing social justice

“We are extremely inspired by these recipients and grateful for their dedication to the fight for human rights and equality,” said Jenna Ebersbacher, a third-year student in the juris doctor program at Penn State Law and president of the Human Rights Society. “As members of the Human Rights Society, we look to them for leadership in our own fight. It is our hope to one day have a similar impact on society.”

JerriAnne Boggis (left) and Christine Penn (right) pose with their Ona Judge Award certificates

“Each of these five recipients have something in common with Ona: they are unsung heroes in their communities; fearless pioneers in their pursuit of equality for all people,” said Rhone. Each recipient received a framed certificate and personal thank-you letter from the society. The public nomination form for the next round of recipients will open later this year.

About the Human Rights Society

HRS offers a forum for students interested in discussing and learning more about various human-rights issues affecting the world, with the opportunity to organically network with like-minded colleagues in the process. Its mission is to advocate for human rights and raise awareness on current human-rights issues, both domestic and international, and support Penn State Law and School of International Affairs students interested in human-rights issues and/or work. To promote its mission, HRS holds roundtable discussions on different topics concerning human rights, and speaker series featuring professors, practitioners and advocates to discuss their areas of human-rights expertise. For more information, contact Jordan C. Rhone at