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Betty Miller Unterberger

Betty Miller Unterberger

Historian of international relations
Betty Miller Unterberger
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Historian of international relations
Was Historian
From United States of America
Type Social science
Gender female
Birth 27 December 1922, Glasgow, Glasgow City, Scotland, United Kingdom
Death 15 May 2012, College Station, Brazos County, Texas, USA (aged 89 years)
Star sign Capricorn
Politics Democratic Party
Radcliffe College
Syracuse University
Harvard University
Duke University
Peoplepill ID betty-miller-unterberger
The details


Betty Miller Unterberger (December 27, 1922 – May 15, 2012) was a historian, who as professor of American international relations spent the bulk of her extensive academic career at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. In 1968, she became the first woman employed as a full professor on the faculty of the formerly all-male institution, where she remained until her retirement in 2004, at the age of 81.


Unterberger was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to Joseph "Scotty" Miller and the former Leah Milner, but was reared in the United States. In 1943, aided with a scholarship in speech, she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Her central interests were in history and political science, however. In 1946, she received the Master of Arts in history from the women's Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, now part of Harvard University.

Unterberger was particularly influenced at Radcliffe/ Harvard by the diplomatic historian Thomas A. Bailey, a visiting scholar from Stanford University. It was from Bailey that she learned about American troops sent to Siberia in Russia at the end of World War I during the Civil War between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Her Ph.D. dissertation at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, became the basis for her first book on the subject, the award-winning America's Siberian Expedition, 1918-1920: A Study of National Policy.

At Duke, Unterberger enrolled in a seminar with Professor Charles Sydnor. She wrote a paper on Thomas Braidwood of Scotland and the origin of schools for the hearing impaired. This article, "The First Attempt to Establish an Oral School for the Deaf and Dumb in the United States," was published in 1947 in the Journal of Southern History and became the first of her many publications. It is on a much different topic than her later writings, the majority of which focus on foreign policy.

Academic career

From 1948-1950, while she was still working on her Ph.D., Unterberger taught at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. From 1954 to 1961, she was an associate professor of history and the director of the Liberal Arts Center for Adults at Whittier College, and from 1961–1965, an associate professor at California State University, Fullerton, where she was also from 1965 to 1968 professor and chair of the graduate studies division.

In 1968, Unterberger came to Texas A&M University as a full professor. Her appointment coincidentally developed when her husband, Robert Ruppe Unterberger (April 27, 1921 – February 14, 2016), accepted a full professorship in geophysics there. In his career, Robert Unterberger researched unique forms of radar and sonar and obtained several international patents. "I felt very much alone [as a woman] at Texas A&M, but it wasn't strange to me," Unterberger said much later (There had been only three women professors in southern California at the time that the Unterbergers came to Texas). "I had been told that I [was] taking the bread out of the mouths of deserving male grad students," Unterberger often recalled. Offered a full professorship by Horace R. Byers, then the Texas A&M vice president for academic affairs, Unterberger recalled that he asked her to "internationalize the history department and build the graduate program. I love to build programs, and this was a wonderful challenge."

Unterberger related how she became close to the first African American student who attended her class in 1969: "He came to see me in tears one day saying that on his dormitory room was a big sign that said 'N--- Go Home!' I took him under my wing. I tried to have students understand one another. The only thing that makes us different is our backgrounds, experience, and differences in cultures." By 1976, TAMU had elected its first black student body president, Fred McClure. She also invited her students on occasion for social gatherings at her home.

From January to August 1979, Unterberger was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Princeton University. From the late 1980s on, she was a frequent visiting professor, teaching at the University of California, Irvine in 1987, at Peking University's Institute of International Relations in 1988, and at Prague's Charles University in 1992. In 1991, she was appointed Patricia and Bookman Peters Professor of History at Texas A&M, and in 2000 was elevated to Regents professor of the Texas A&M University System.

A high point of Unterberger's career was her election in 1986 as president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, an organization 99 percent male founded in 1967, running against Robert Dallek. Toward the end of her career, she developed an interest in India and Pakistan, particularly the work of Pandurang Shastri Athavale, or "Dada", the founder of the Swadhyay Movement. According to her, Swadhyay had "liberated millions from poverty and moral dissipation." In 1997, she successfully nominated Athavale for the $1.3 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Unterberger served on the Central Intelligence Agency Advisory Committee for Access to Documents and Open Information. She received a personal letter of appreciation for her service from Leon Panetta, the then CIA director.

Selected publications


In 2004, the Betty M. Unterberger Dissertation Prize was established by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in her honor. The prize, awarded biannually in the amount of $1,000, recognizes distinguished research and writing by graduate students in the field of diplomatic history. It has been awarded since 2005 in odd years.


Robert Unterberger also held a Ph.D. from Duke University. Howard Mumford Jones, Unterberger's Harvard graduate school advisor, had urged her to marry Robert. At first reluctant, she consented after being stricken by influenza. Robert Unterberger served in both World War II and the Korean War. He was severely injured when his jeep blew up in the Philippines two days after the official end of World War II. The Unterbergers were the parents of Glen Alan Unterberger (1951–1978); the Reverend Dr. Gail L. Unterberger (born 1952), the wife of Randall Adams; and Gregg R. Unterberger (born 1958). Howard Jones had much impact on Unterberger, having introduced her to the technical advantages of having a dictaphone in her historical writing.

Both Robert and Betty Unterberger were cancer survivors. He overcame prostate cancer. She endured four surgeries between 1950 and 1964. The couple resided in College Station, where she died at the age of 89; he at 94, in 2016. There were memorial services for both in 2012 and 2016, respectively, at the All Faith Chapel on the Texas A&M campus. Both were cremated.

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