Published Date

January 1, 1980

Resource Type

AHA Archival Document

AHA Topics

Professional Life

In 1970 an ad hoc Committee on the Status of Women, chaired by Willie Lee Rose, submitted a report to the AHA. Out of its recommendations came the creation of the standing AHA Committee on Women Historians “to develop the sustained attention and pressure indispensable to an advance in the status of women.” A specific task of this committee was to “maintain and make public no less than once a year information on the numbers and progress of women students in graduate school, the proportions and rank of those employed, and a current picture of the standing of women in the historical profession.” Following the charge of the “Rose Report,” the Committee on Women Historians (CWH) has published such information each year in its annual report.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the “Rose Report.” It seemed an appropriate moment for the CWH to prepare a more comprehensive report, reviewing the record of women in the historical profession during the 1970s, and preparing fresh recommendations for improving the status and addressing the problems of women historians in the 1980s.

This report is based on four principal sources of information: (1) the AHA records of women’s participation in its various activities; (2) the results from the 1979 survey of history departments done by the AHA Professional Division, which covers a sizable and representative portion (about one-third) of the entire profession; (3) the 1980 report by the National Research Council (NRC) on Science, Engineering and Humanities Doctorates in the United States; (4) follow-up reports from the thirty colleges and universities that were surveyed in the “Rose Report.” We have been unable to say more about minority women historians and the nonacademic employment of history PhDs because of the paucity of available information. To cite but one example, in the AHA’s survey of departments of history, questions about minorities were not answered frequently enough to provide significant data. CWH has set as its next task the collection of usable data about minority women and women employed as public historians. To achieve this goal we are working closely with the Association of Black Women Historians, one of whose members sits on the committee.


What have these data revealed?

Let’s begin with the good news and move on from there. Within the AHA there has been a dramatic increase in the representation of women at all but the very highest administrative levels. In 1969, only 3.9 percent of participants at the annual AHA convention were women; in 1979, 16.2 percent were women —a figure close to the overall percentage of women historians in the 1979 AHA departmental survey. In 1980, women formed about 30 percent of elected AHA officers and about 30 percent of the new members joining the association.

Excluding CWH itself, women form 31 percent of the AHA’s standing committees, versus only 2 percent in 1969; they constitute 17 percent of AHA prize committee membership in 1980 versus 8.7 percent in 1969; 19.3 percent of AHA ad hoc and joint committees in 1980 versus 2.5 percent in 1969; and 30 percent of AHA delegates to other associations and organizations, versus none in 1969. CWH has worked with considerable success with various program and nominating committees to encourage women’s participation in AHA activities and to develop awareness about it. Indeed the considerable improvement of women’s representation and participation within the association over the last ten years is due in large part to the constant efforts of the women’s committee. The committee has continued to fulfill the function described for it in the Rose Report—it has developed “the sustained attention and pressure indispensable to an advance in the status of women.”

The association’s demonstrated interest in women historians, its support of the committee’s activities, its publication of important pamphlets related to women’s professional interests and to women’s history has yielded significant results. This year women constitute 30 percent of all new members of the association—a considerable increase over past years and a significant figure at a time of generally declining membership.

When we turn from the professional association to the departments of history, our data paint a less pleasing picture, although the aggregate figures do show an increase of women. Comparing 1980 with 1969 reveals that proportionately more women are employed in 1980. Women formed scarcely 10 percent of all historians hired in 1969. The various surveys indicated that women now constitute about 15 percent of academically employed history PhDs, and they were approximately 25 percent of all new hirings in 1980. From the 1930s until 1968 women comprised about 10 percent of all PhDs granted in history. This rate increased steadily to 22 percent by 1975 and has continued to increase slowly, so that women comprised 23 percent of all history PhDs granted between 1975 and 1978.

These general increases mask glaring inequities in other areas.

Women are disproportionately clustered in insecure or dead-end jobs. According to the NRC report 28 percent of women history PhDs, but only 9 percent of men are in nontenure-track positions. Compared to all the other humanities fields, history has the largest percent of tenured men and by far the largest percent of nontenure-track women.

The part-time market is the most feminized and probably the most discriminatory. The AHA report showed that one women historian in six, but only one man in twenty, worked part­time, and that only 18 percent of these women (versus over 40 percent of the men) earned over $12,000 in 1979; the NRC confirmed that 19 percent of women PhDs versus 5 percent of men, worked part-time, and that proportionately more women than men in such situations were actively seeking full-time employment. So we are not dealing with a preference by women for part-time jobs, but with their having to settle for what is available.

In full-time employment women received tenure proportionately less than their male counterparts. Among the recent 1975-1978 cohort of history PhDs, for example, over 27 percent of men, but only 9 percent of women had reached or passed the rank of associate professor (with its presumption of if not actual tenure status).

Women earn less than their male colleagues in all but the lowest ranks. This is true even when length of employment experience is taken into account. The NRC report found that for those with 11-15 years’ experience, men earned $2200 more than women.

There is no evidence in these figures to confirm the myth that women are squeezing men out of the academic job market; but there is evidence to support the notion that women are disproportionately experiencing a revolving door in employment—hired as assistant professors, but not promoted to tenure status.

In 1980 women have come to form a significant minority of the historical profession, but they are largely concentrated at the bottom-level, insecure, and underpaid ranks. We have little reason to expect that this trend will change of its own accord in the future. There have been increases since 1969 in the proportion of women hired in academic history positions, but—with the exception of a handful of well-publicized token “stars”—there has not been a commensurate improvement in women’s status.

Tenure Status of PhDs in the Humanities by Field of PhD and Sex, 1979

Field of Doctorate
Tenure StatusAll FieldsHistEng/Amer Lang & Lit
Total Academically Employed53,20012.90015,400
Tenure Track/Not Tenured14.7%10.2%14.7%
Non-Tenure Track11.2%12.0%10.5%
No Report6.2%4.3%5.8%
Years to Tenure5.25.35.1
Total Academically Employed, Male40,60011,00010,900
Tenure Track/Not Tenured12.8%9.4%12.0%
Non-Tenure Track8.4%9.2%7.0%
No Report5.0%4.1%3.8%
Years to Tenure5.25.35.2
Total Academically Employed, Female12,6001,9004,300
Tenure Track/-Not Tenured20.9%15.1%21.3%
Non-Tenure Track20.3%28.5%18.9%
No Report10.1%5.8%10.6%
Years to Tenure5.05.24.8
Source: National Research Council, 1980 Profile on Science, Engineering and Humanities Doctorates in the United States (Washington, DC) 56.


The reasons for these negative trends in the status of women in the historical profession are difficult to identify, but at bottom, there seems to he a residue of subtle unacknowledged, often unarticulated, biases about women that continue to inform the behavior of departments of history. Our evaluations of the causes of these trends are based on individual cases rather than aggregate survey data, and they are necessarily more impressionistic. However, they have been documented in many earlier reports. (See for example, Radcliffe College, Graduate Education fog Women: The Radcliffe Ph.D., 1956.)

  1. Standards are higher for women than for men. Women with outstanding records and achievements are often recognized and rewarded for their efforts, but, as the 1975-1978 NRC promotion figures show, men are preferred over women in the “non-star” category.
  2. Women historians spend more time in service tasks, counseling students and serving on committees, than their male counterparts. One reason this happens is because women form perhaps 15 percent of history faculties, while about half of all undergraduates and one-third of all graduate students are female. Women faculty tend to be both models and advisors for such students. Both the counseling and the committee service work of faculty women is not considered very important when tenure decisions are made.
  3. Women historians tend to be marginalized socially in predominately male history departments. It is difficult for newly hired women to break into established patterns of male sociability and thus gain access to information networks and to sponsorship by tenured faculty.
  4. Many women are involved in writing and/or teaching women’s history, which has yet to gain full recognition despite the important efforts of its practitioners and support for those efforts by the association.
  5. A far narrower personality type is tolerated for women than for men. Brilliant but tactless men are far more readily accepted as colleagues than aggressive or outspoken women.


These recommendations are brought to the attention of the Professional Division and the Council for their consideration.

A serious effort must be made by the association, and especially by the Professional Division, to implement equity in departments of history as it has begun to do within the AHA. Toward that end CWH has made the following recommendations to the Professional Division and the Council:

  1. The AHA should educate the profession about the need for genuinely equitable treatment of women historians by:
    1. continuing to publish statistical reports on the current status of women and men within the profession;
    2. publishing a column in the AHA Newsletter that describes the problems faced by women historians and analyzes actions by deans or department heads and similar matters;
    3. applying for grants to run weekend or summer institutes devoted to increasing decision-makers’ understandings of what constitutes unfair treatment of women, and how to achieve genuine equity.
  2. The Professional Division, in consultation with CWH and with the Council, should prepare guidelines for hiring, promotion, and tenure, which would increase female representation in history departments. The efforts and actions of successful departments should be publicized in the Newsletter.
  3. The Professional Division should publish a pamphlet on professional equity, with suggestions about taking women’s special contributions—such as advising or counseling students and committee service—into account when major career decisions are made.
  4. The AHA should work through organizations to which it belongs, such as the American Council on Education, to implement policies of equity. When such organizations take positions contrary to these policies (as ACE did in an amicus curiae brief against a woman who filed a discrimination suit), membership should be reviewed.
  5. The AHA, perhaps in conjunction with the OAH, should address itself to the problem of unemployment that faces both men and women holding PhDs in history. Alternatives should be considered at all levels from graduate training to retirement. Another important aspect of this problem includes alerting graduate departments to increase their long-term responsibilities to their graduates through such policies as free research facilities or permanent identification for purposes of grant applications. The CWH is aware that several efforts to survey the needs of unaffiliated and independent scholars are underway. The CCWHP, the College Entrance Examination Board, and the Institute for Research in History, among others, are preparing recommendations for institutions, departments and professional associations to respond more effectively to these individuals. The AHA should work closely with these organizations and others to collect information and help implement appropriate recommendations.
  6. Within the AHA itself other re­forms can be made:
    1. The head of CWH should attend Professional Division meetings when issues related to women are being discussed;
    2. The editorial staff of the American Historical Review should be sensitized to the validity and the diversity of women’s history, particularly in such areas as the assignment of book reviews;
    3. The incoming executive director of the association must be someone sensitive to all issues relevant to women’s equity within the profession.
  7. Appropriate bodies of the AHA should implement these recommendations at their earliest opportunity.

Kathryn Kish Sklar
CWH chair, 1980–82

Joan Wallach Scott
CWH chair, 1978–80