The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards were established by the New York Southern Society in 1925 in memory of Mr. Sullivan, a southerner who became a prominent lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist in New York in the late nineteenth century. The Society and carefully selected colleges and universities jointly arrange for the issue of Medallions, which are to be perpetual reminders of Algernon Sydney Sullivan, the memory of whose life has been handed down with loving and grateful admiration as one that was a continuous expression of those high qualities which ennoble and beautify living and bind man to man in mutual love and helpfulness. Such lives must ever be encouraging and inspiring; they justify our highest ideals and hopes.
Algernon Sydney Sullivan, born in Indiana in 1826, rose to success in New York City as a respected lawyer and a man who "reached out both hands in constant helpfulness" to others. After his death in 1887, the Society sought to honor him and the award bearing his name was established in 1925 by the Sullivan Memorial Committee and the New York Southern Society, which Mr. Sullivan had served as its first president. The award seeks to perpetuate the excellence of character and humanitarian service of Algernon Sydney Sullivan by recognizing and honoring such qualities in others. It was first presented in June 1925 at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennessee, now a part of Vanderbilt University.
Funded by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation and administered by the New York Southern Society the awards stem from the Society's wish to establish a permanent reminder of the "noblest human qualities as expressed and followed in the life of its first president, Algernon Sydney Sullivan; and to do so in a manner which will perpetuate the influence of such a man, not so much as an individual but as a type." The prestigious awards are given only by selected "representative institutions." After the New York Southern Society closed its doors, the awards were continued by the Sullivan Foundation and grew to include more and more institutions throughout the South. The University of Kentucky has been recognizing Sullivan Award winners since 1927.
Mary Mildred Sullivan, Algernon Sullivan's wife, a Virginian, was likewise a person imbued with humanitarian spirit. In 1940, the New York Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which Mrs. Sullivan had helped establish and which she had been the first president, created the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award. It honors persons who demonstrate the "spirit of helpfulness and an awareness of the beauty and value of the intangible elements of life." In 1949, the Southern Society agreed to administer the award and did so until the Society went out of existence in 1973.
Since 1973 the Sullivan Foundation, formalized in the late 1920s by Mary Mildred Sullivan and son George, has administered both the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards and the Mary Mildred Sullivan Awards.
The University of Kentucky is one of several southern universities that present the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award -- sponsored by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation -- to recognize those faculty, staff or students who exhibit Sullivan's ideals of heart, mind, and conduct as evince a spirit of love for and helpfulness to other men and women." In addition, the non-student must have a connection with the University as an employee, alumnus or friend.