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Beth Platz

The Reverend Elizabeth Platz Smith ’62 has been a steadfast and humble pioneer for women in ministry, without ever setting out to make history breaking down gender barriers.   

A graduate of Chatham College with a degree in history, the Rev. Platz was an exceptional student who loved learning. She was the first in her family to attend college and it was during her time at Chatham that she first developed an interest in studying theology. “Chatham was a wonderworld of new ideas and avenues to explore with possibilities I never imagined. I can recall often sitting on the floor in the library with books piled around me, learning about everything that caught my attention.” shares Rev. Platz. “At Chatham, I encountered the joy of pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowing.”  

After graduating from Chatham, she enrolled at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the only Lutheran seminary that accepted women at the time. She completed her theological education, ruffling a few feathers when she elected to study systematic theology, instead of the Christian education program pursued by female seminarians. With the support of the Theological Seminary president, she was allowed to pursue the same curriculum as the male seminarians and graduated in 1965. 

Since women were still not ordained in the Lutheran Church at this time, the options for positions in ministry were limited. Rev. Platz found her home at the University of Maryland, College Park, as Chaplain for the Lutheran Campus Ministry. Later, when the Lutheran Church moved to allow women’s ordination in 1970, she was the only woman with the required educational credentials for ordination. Rev. Platz made history by becoming the first woman in North America to be ordained by a Lutheran church body (the Lutheran Church in America).   

Pastor Beth, as she prefers to be known, went on to serve as Chaplain at the University of Maryland for 47 years, helping to shape the lives of countless university students in her ministry. She was recognized for her commitment with an appointment as the University’s emeritus chaplain. Her deep commitment to education and mentorship also extends to her alma mater.  

This past year, she established The Rev. Elizabeth Platz Smith ’62 Scholarship Fund of the Class of 1962 Scholarship Challenge, to support an undergraduate woman who is also a first-generation college student.   

The Class of 1962 Scholarship Challenge provides matching funds of $20,000—once a donor commits to $30,000—to create a new, endowed scholarship, fulfilling Chatham’s endowment threshold of $50,000. As a member of the Class of ’62, Beth thought the Challenge was a great opportunity to give back. “Chatham gave me a love of knowledge, and I hope to give that same gift to other students with this scholarship.”  

Rev. Platz chose to fund her scholarship with a charitable distribution from her IRA, an easy way to make a gift that also satisfied her required minimum distribution. To learn more about gift strategies that can help you support Chatham University and also provide benefits to you and your family, visit https://plannedgiving.chatham.edu/how-you-can-give/find-best-gift or contact Dana DePasquale at ddepasquale@chatham.edu or (412) 365-1517.