Claire M. Fagin, 1926–2024

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Portrait of Claire Fagin by Nelson Shanks, oil on canvas, 1991.

The former interim Penn president and giant of the nursing profession passed away in January.

Claire M. Fagin Hon’94—who as interim president of the University in 1993–94 was one of the first women to lead an Ivy League school and whose many contributions to Penn Nursing as dean were honored by the school’s building being renamed for her—died on January 16 at age 97 at her home in New York.

In a statement to the University community, Board of Trustees Chair Ramanan Raghavendran EAS’89 W’89 LPS’15 and Interim Penn President J. Larry Jameson called Fagin a “dear friend” and praised her as “a passionate advocate for universal health care, nursing education, and the advancement of women in health-related fields who brought Penn Nursing to national prominence.” Her tenure in College Hall, from July 1, 1993, to June 30, 1994, served as a “vital link between the accomplishments of the Meyerson and Hackney administrations and the promise of the Rodin administration that was to follow,” they wrote, and credited her with bringing the campus together in a “fractured time.”

(Penn had been thrown into the national spotlight over what became known as the “water buffalo incident” and the theft of copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian to protest allegedly racist columns in the waning months of Hackney’s term in office, and while he was facing a heated confirmation battle to head the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Clinton administration.)

Before becoming interim president, Fagin served as the Margaret Bond Simon Dean of the School of Nursing from 1977 to 1992, joining Penn from the City University of New York, where she had chaired the nursing department and directed the school’s Health Professions Institute from 1969 to 1977. Earlier, after earning her undergraduate degree in nursing at Wagner College, a master’s degree from Columbia, and her doctorate from New York University, she had been director of the graduate program in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at NYU from 1965 to 1969.

According to a statement on the Penn Nursing website, Fagin “set the school on a course of excellence in teaching, research and clinical practice,” developing the first nursing doctorate program in the Ivy League and the nation’s first center for nursing research, among other educational innovations. She also grew the faculty in numbers and quality, while attracting increasing support for the school. “Under her leadership, Penn Nursing became a well-known and respected institution. She challenged paradigms and opened new frontiers to nursing students, practitioners, and scientists.”

Along with 15 honorary degrees, Fagin’s many honors included nursing’s highest accolade, the American Nursing Association’s Honorary Recognition Award, as well as election to the Association’s Hall of Fame and to the American Academy of Nursing, which named her a “Living Legend” in 1998. The Nursing School renamed its building Fagin Hall for her in 2006 [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2006] and established the Claire M. Fagin Distinguished Researcher Award in 2003, in addition to a professorship in her name.

Fagin’s doctoral dissertation, on parental overnight stays in pediatric facilities, helped foster acceptance of that practice, and she went on to edit influential books in psychiatric and pediatric nursing, to publish numerous journal articles, and to advocate for the profession in public policy discussions long after her retirement from teaching in 1996.

Current Nursing Dean Antonia M. Villarruel GNu’82 called Fagin “a transformational leader” whose “impact cannot be understated” in the school’s statement. “She was a friend, mentor, teacher, and inspiration to me, our students, our faculty, and so many others. As we mourn her loss, we also remember her kindness, humor, and generosity. She touched generations of lives, and her impact and legacy live on in each of us.” —JP

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