University of Chicago’s Hanna Holborn Gray has written a memoirHistorians in the News
tags: University of Chicago, Hanna Holborn Gray, An Academic Life
Hanna Holborn Gray was born in Germany in 1930 and as a young child immigrated to the United States with her parents, part of a generation of academics who fled Nazi Germany. She grew up as her father taught at Yale University and demonstrated academic excellence from an early age, enrolling at Bryn Mawr College at the age of 15.
She rose through American higher education as a faculty member and administrator. Gray was typically the first and/or only woman in various roles throughout her career. She served as acting president of Yale in 1977-78, and then for 15 years as president of the University of Chicago. At gatherings of the leaders of research universities, she was regularly the only woman in the room.
Gray's memoir is An Academic Life (Princeton University Press). She discusses her childhood and her work at Yale (primarily as provost, where she was the first woman to hold that position there) and at Chicago, helping both institutions deal with economic changes and budget cuts. She notes that at Chicago, younger than Harvard and Yale, she did not encounter as much sexism as she did at the older, more elitist institutions.
Via email, Gray responded to questions about her book and her career.
Q: How did your background as an immigrant -- and as part of a family escaping Nazi Germany -- shape the way you viewed the world?
A: Growing up in two cultures made my outlook internationalist and my interest decidedly European. I was exposed early in life to the political threats posed by the Nazi regime. I came into contact with many of the Central European academic refugees who were friends of my parents and listened as they discussed the loss of academic freedom and integrity in their home countries, the failure of democratic hopes and republican institutions, the evils of anti-Semitism and its impact, the prospects for war in the Europe of the 1930s. I grew up in a household committed to the New Deal and to the principles of openness, opportunity and freedom in America’s institutions of higher learning, brought up to respect the dominant values of the higher learning and its purposes. Education was all important in the lives of the refugee scholars and their ambitions for their children. ...
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