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Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray (born October 25, 1930) is an American historian of Renaissance and Reformation political thought and Professor of History Emerita at the University of Chicago. She served as president of the University of Chicago, from 1978 to 1993, having earlier served as acting president of Yale University in 1977-78. At both schools, she was the first woman to hold their highest executive office. When named to the post in Chicago, she became the first woman in the United States to hold the full presidency of a major university.

Hanna Holborn Gray
Hanna Holborn Gray.jpg
9th President of the University of Chicago
In office
Preceded byJohn T. Wilson
Succeeded byHugo F. Sonnenschein
18th President of Yale University (Acting)
In office
Preceded byKingman Brewster, Jr.
Succeeded byA. Bartlett Giamatti
Personal details
Born (1930-10-25) October 25, 1930 (age 89)
Heidelberg, Germany
Spouse(s)Charles Montgomery Gray (1954–2011)
ParentsHajo Holborn
Annemarie Bettmann
Alma materBryn Mawr College, University of Oxford, Harvard University


Hanna Holborn was born in Heidelberg, Germany, the daughter of Hajo Holborn, a professor of European history at Yale who fled to America from Nazi Germany, and Annemarie Bettmann, a philologist.[1] Her older brother, Frederick, became a White House aide and professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies.[2] She attended The Foote School in New Haven, CT (graduated '43), Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C, then Bryn Mawr College in suburban Philadelphia, where she graduated in 1950. Holborn traveled to Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar. She met and married Charles Montgomery Gray in 1954 while both were graduate students at Harvard University, earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1957, and taught there, becoming an assistant professor in 1959.

She moved to Chicago when her husband was appointed to a position at the University of Chicago. She began teaching history there and earned tenure in 1964. From 1966 to 1970, she was co-editor of the Journal of Modern History with her husband.[3]

Gray rose to prominence as an administrator after she was appointed to a committee to investigate whether a sociology professor had been denied tenure because of her gender and political sympathies.

Gray was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University in 1972 and became professor of history and provost at Yale University in 1974.[4] She served as acting president of Yale for fourteen months after President Kingman Brewster unexpectedly accepted an appointment as United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James's.[5]

Gray then returned to the University of Chicago, serving as president from 1978 to 1993, the first female (full) president of a major university in the United States.[6]

She retired in June 1993 but remains Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emerita, continuing to offer advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in history. Her husband died in April 2011.

Gray has also served as a director, board member or trustee of many institutions, including the Harvard Corporation, the Yale Corporation, the Smithsonian Institution, JP Morgan Chase, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Marlboro School of Music, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Concord Coalition, the Mayo Clinic, the Brookings Institution, and Bryn Mawr College.

Gray has received honorary degrees from more than sixty institutions, including the University of Chicago, The College of William and Mary, Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Duke.

She served as chairman of the board of the second largest foundation in America, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, until 2010.[7]

The portrait of Hanna Gray that hangs at the University of Chicago has been stolen on more than one occasion as a prank.[8]

Gray published a memoir An Academic Life. Princeton University Press. 2018. ISBN 9780691179186.



  • Teaching Fellow, Harvard University, 1955–1957
  • Instructor, Harvard University, 1957–1959
  • Assistant Professor, Harvard University, 1959–1960
  • Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago 1961-1964
  • Associate Professor of History at the University of Chicago 1964-1972
  • Professor and Dean, Northwestern University 1972-1974
  • Professor and Provost at Yale University 1974-1978
  • Acting President of Yale University 1977-1978
  • Professor of History at the University of Chicago 1978–present
  • President of the University of Chicago 1978-1993
  • Appointed to the Harvard Corporation, 1997

Works and publicationsEdit

  • Hanna Holborn Gray, "Some Reflections on the Second Generation." The Second Generation. Émigrés from Nazi Germany as Historians, ed. Andreas Daum, Harmut Lehmann, and James J. Sheehan. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78238-985-9, 102-113.


  1. ^ Daum, Andreas; et al. (2016). The Second Generation. Émigrés from Nazi Germany as Historians. New York: Berghahn Books. pp. 102–113. ISBN 978-1-78238-985-9.
  2. ^ Holley, Joe (9 June 2005). "Foreign Policy Guru Frederick Holborn Dies". Washington Post. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  3. ^ "Hanna Holborn Gray", Office of the President, University of Chicago
  4. ^ Kelley, Brooks Mather. (1999). Yale: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-07843-5; OCLC 810552
  5. ^ Leavitt, Judith A. (1985). American women managers and administrators, pp. 90-91.
  6. ^ For a discussion of Dr. Gray's presidency see "Hanna Holborn Gray, 1978-93," News from the Department of History, University of Chicago [1]
  7. ^
  8. ^ University of Chicago Magazine

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
Kingman Brewster, Jr.
President of Yale University
Succeeded by
A. Bartlett Giamatti
Preceded by
John T. Wilson
President of the University of Chicago
Succeeded by
Hugo F. Sonnenschein