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From the Timelines column of the November 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

Remembering the Rose Report

Noralee Frankel, November 2010

The AHA has a long-standing concern for the status of women in a profession traditionally dominated by men. Over the years the Association has conducted studies and adopted resolutions designed to draw attention to the status of women, and to advocate for change. The “Rose Report” of 1970 is one of the more significant documents in this history.

In December 1969, the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession (CCWHP, now referred to as the CCWH) drafted a resolution calling on the AHA Council to gather information on the status of women in the profession. Consequently, the AHA Council adopted its own resolution calling for a commission to study and collect “statistics and other information on the numbers, positions, and treatment of women in the historical profession at all levels (student admissions, grants, degrees awarded, faculty employment, salary, promotion, etc.),” to arrange sessions on women’s issues at the 1970 and subsequent annual meetings, to make recommendations on how the Council might address the concerns of women in the profession, and to document specific cases of gender discrimination.

On November 9, 1970, the eight-month old AHA Committee on the Status of Women issued a report in part based on the CCWHP resolution. This report is affectionately known as the “Rose Report” after the chair Willie Lee Rose (she did not see the irony of referring to herself as chairman in the report). The report began “The present demand for social justice for women coincides with the permanent interest of the historical profession. To increase the opportunities open to women in the field of history is to advance the quality of the profession itself.” The AHA positions in the report included opposing discrimination against women at all levels and a commitment to work to enhance opportunities for women in the historical profession. It stated that the AHA “will establish a standing Committee on Women Historians to develop the sustained attention and pressure indispensable to an advance in the status of women.” One of the recommended policies was to make public information on the status of women and to find models for departments and institutions working toward “enlarging the role of women in the profession.”

The Rose Report is a fascinating cautionary tale. In the summary of findings, the report pointed out that “the proportion of women receiving doctorates in all fields…has been lower in the 1950s and 1960s than it was in 1920, 1930, or 1940.” The decline of women faculty within coeducational liberal arts colleges was “most startling.” In 1959–60 sixteen percent of full professors in history were women. But by 1968–69 only one woman full professor in history remained at coeducational colleges, and during the following year she retired. The retirement of the earlier generation of women as well as the “tendency to hire men in the post war years” caused the shortage of female faculty.

The report did not mince words about the discrimination that women historians faced. It cited a study that stated that those who “discriminated against women in academic employment also hold general views concerning female inferiority.” Male faculty that held the most clout in a department most likely held such attitudes. The first appendix breaks down men and women faculty in history departments by key years and selected graduate, liberal arts, and women’s colleges. These statistics were updated in 1977 with little change at the full professor rank but some improvement at assistant professor. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the rise in female doctorates would eventually change the statistics of full professors.

In an interesting sign of the times, while addressing women’s career concerns, the Rose Report did not mention women’s history as a field of study, even as it asked women historians about their religion and political persuasion. The fields women could pick from were: social, political, intellectual, economic, cultural, agricultural, and other.

Today, concern for the status of women in the profession embodied in the Rose Report is very much alive. The AHA Committee on Women continues to work on finding models for gender equity, as seen in the “Gender Equity in the Academic History Workplace: A Guide to Best Practices,” and the CWH statement, “Gender Equity in the History Workplace: Best Practices” (2005). The profession should take what the report about the status of women in the academy in the 1930s and 1940s very seriously. The gains for women that we take for granted can be lost.

The Rose Report can be found at www.historians.org/pubs/archives/Rosereport/index.htm.

Noralee Frankel is AHA’s assistant director for teaching, women, and minorities.