Gray, Hanna Holborn

Gray, Hanna Holborn

Gray, Hanna Holborn, 1930-, American historian, president of the Univ. of Chicago (1978-93), b. Germany. Her father, the eminent historian Hajo Holborn, fled the Nazis in 1934 and settled in the U.S. A Renaissance and Reformation scholar, Gray became provost of Yale in 1974 and acting president in 1977. Her appointment to Chicago made her the first woman to head a major American university.
Hanna Holborn Gray (born 1930), is a historian of political thought in the Renaissance and Reformation, and an emerita professor at the University of Chicago.

The daughter of Hajo Holborn, a professor of European history who fled to America from Nazi Germany, and of Annemarie Bettmann, a philologist, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College and travelled 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 obtained a position at the University of Chicago and she herself obtained a position there, becoming a tenured faculty member in 1964. From 1966-1970, she served as a coeditor of the Journal of Modern History with her husband, Charles.

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

She was named Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University in 1972, and became professor of history at, and Provost of, Yale University in 1974. She was acting President of Yale University for fourteen months.

Gray then returned to the University of Chicago serving as president from 1978 to 1993, and, in that capacity, was 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 and continues to offer advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in history.

She also has served as a Director, Board Member or Trustee of various 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.

She is a recipient of over 60 honorary degrees, including from schools such as the University of Chicago, The College of William and Mary, Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and Duke

Gray is currently the Chairman of the Board of the second largest foundation in America, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

She is a recipient of both the Medal of Liberty and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

A portrait of Hanna Gray hanging at the University of Chicago has infamously been stolen on more than one occasion as a prank.


  • 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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