Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, recognizes exceptional meritorious service. The medal was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize notable service in the war. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy reintroduced it as an honor for distinguished civilian service in peacetime.

Mildred Dresselhaus


Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2014
Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation. She is best known for deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon, which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.

Mildred Dresselhaus

Abner Mikva


Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2014
Abner Mikva is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction in all three branches of government. He was a five-term Congressman from Illinois, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton.

Abner Mikva

Patsy Takemoto Mink (1927-2002)


Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2014
Patsy Takemoto Mink was a Congresswoman from Hawaii, serving a total of 12 terms. She became the first Japanese American female attorney in Hawaii, and served in the Hawaii territorial and state legislatures beginning in 1956. In 1964, she became the first woman of color elected to Congress. She is best known for co-authoring and championing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Patsy Takemoto Mink

Janet Davison Rowley (1925–2013)

BS’46, MD’48; Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2009
Janet Rowley’s work … changed the way cancer was understood, opened the door to development of drugs directed at the cancer-specific genetic abnormalities, and created the paradigm that still drives cancer research.

Janet Davison Rowley

Gary S. Becker (1930–2014)

AM’53, PhD’55; University Professor in Economics and Sociology, 1970–2014

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007
For pioneering applications of economic theory of human capital to show ways in which individual and family decisions are made on the basis of economics.

Gary Becker

James Q. Wilson (1931–2012)


Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2003
Wilson’s principal effect is through his writing, some of it amplified by his relationships with civic leaders. Police Chief William J. Bratton is a disciple of Wilson’s policing strategies. And former Mayor Richard Riordan calls Wilson the most intellectually honest person he knows—someone interested in exploring questions, not dictating answers.

James Wilson

Katharine Graham (1917–2001)

AB’38; former publisher and CEO of the Washington Post ; former member of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2002
After nearly 35 years of leading The Washington Post Company—as publisher, chief executive officer, and chairman of the executive committee—Mrs. Graham wrote her memoirs, Personal History, in 1997. The best-selling chronicle of her life with The Post won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Katharine Graham

John Hope Franklin (1915–2009)

John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor in History, 1969–1982

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1995
My challenge,” Franklin said, “was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.

John Hope Franklin

Hanna Holborn Gray

Assistant Professor in History, 1961–64; Associate Professor of History, 1964–72; President of the University of Chicago, 1978–93; Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor of History, 1994–present

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1991
In the highest ranks of academic leadership, she has strengthened Yale University and the University of Chicago and ensured that they remain among the world’s great teaching and research universities. The United States honors Hanna Gray for devoting her abundant talent and energy to the causes of excellence, truth, and freedom.

Hanna Gray

Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992)

Professor of Social and Moral Science in the Committee on Social Thought, 1950–64

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1991
The Road to Serfdom still thrills readers everywhere, and his subsequent works inspire people throughout the world because they possess the vigor and feel of real life—not just the hollow ring of abstract theory. Professor von Hayek has revolutionized the world’s intellectual and political life.

Milton Friedman (1912–2006)

AM'33; Research Assistant in the Social Science Research Committee, 1934–35; Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, 1946–48; Professor, 1948–62; Paul Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor, 1962–82; Paul Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, 1982–2006

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1988
He has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions. That vision has changed America, and it is changing the world. All of us owe a tremendous debt to this man’s towering intellect and his devotion to liberty.

Milton Friedman

Albert Wohlstetter (1913–1997)

University Professor in Political Science, 1964–80

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1985
Wohlstetter was at the origin of the rethinking of the traditional doctrine known as ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD), which was the basis for nuclear deterrence. According to this theory, two blocs capable of inflicting upon each other irreparable damages would cause leaders to hesitate to unleash the nuclear fire. For Wohlstetter and his pupils, MAD was both immoral— because of the destruction inflicted on civilian populations—and ineffective: it led to the mutual neutralization of nuclear arsenals. No statesman endowed with reason, and in any case no American president, would decide on ‘reciprocal suicide.'

James D. Watson

PhB’46, SB’47, DSc (honorary)'61

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977
Scholar, teacher, author, and scientific pioneer, James D. Watson has challenged the mysteries of life itself and charted a new path in mankind’s endless search for truth. His intellectual courage and relentless pursuit of scientific knowledge have earned him the respect and admiration of his country and a permanent place as one of the great explorers of the 20th century.

James Watson

Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)

Lecturer, 1930–37

Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1963
Artist of rare gaiety and penetration, he has inscribed a noble vision in his books, making the commonplaces of life yield the wit, the wonder and the steadfastness of the human adventure.

Thornton Wilder