Hanna Holborn Gray: American historian (1930-) | Biography
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Hanna Holborn Gray
American historian

Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American historian
Is Historian Educator
From United States of America Germany
Field Academia Social science
Gender female
Birth 25 October 1930, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe Government Region, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Age 93 years
Star sign Scorpio
The details (from wikipedia)


Hanna Holborn Gray (born October 25, 1930), is a historian of Renaissance and Reformation political thought and Professor of History Emerita at the University of Chicago. She served as Acting President of Yale University in 1977–78 and was then appointed President of the University of Chicago, where she served for fifteen years. At both schools, she was the first woman to hold their highest executive office.


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. Her older brother, Frederick, became a White House aide and professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. She attended 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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


  • Medal of Liberty
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Francis Boyer Award


  • 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 of History at Yale University 1974-1978
  • Provost of Yale University 1974-1978
  • Acting President of Yale University 1977-1978
  • Professor of History at the University of Chicago 1978
  • President of the University of Chicago 1978-1993
  • Appointed to the Harvard Corporation, 1997
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