Published Date

November 9, 1970

From Report of the American Historical Association Committee on the Status of Women (1970)

On February 21st, 1970, the American Historical Association established an ad hoc committee to study the status of women in the profession, in response to a petition received on October 30th, 1969, by the Executive Council. The instructions of the committee were as follows:

  1. To commission studies 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.);
  2. To arrange sessions and hold hearings during the 1970 annual convention of the Association, and subsequent conventions as necessary, so as to make public its own and other studies and provide opportunity for other members of the profession to present independent testimony or comment on the studies so presented;
  3. To publish and circulate widely the results of its studies and others presented at conventions;
  4. To make recommendations for action by the American Historical Association in 1970 and subsequent years on matters affecting the status of women in the profession;
  5. To receive and solicit information relating to specific instances of discrimination.

In addition to these specific instructions the committee was given discretion to evaluate and make recommendations on the original petition of the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession which may be read in its entirety in the June, 1970 Newsletter of the Association.

The Committee had no difficulty in reaching agreement in the interpretation of its instructions, and on according the highest priority to instructions under charge D, “To make recommendations for action by the American Historical Association in 1970 and subsequent years on matters affecting the status of women in the profession.”

Although it has been tempting to us as historians to study the historical background of the present standing of professional women, we concluded early in our deliberations that the urgency of the problems women face in the historical profession today precluded the leisurely approach that the thorough investigation of the historical dimension would have required. A blanket survey of our membership at all ranks and ages would have taken more than a year to administer and analyze, and the committee decided that on balance the information so secured would not justify the delay involved. We therefore agreed that we should concentrate initially upon several limited investigations aimed directly at areas of pressure where action of the AHA might bring about an improvement within a reasonable length of time.

Therefore, in response to the thrust of those instructions pertaining to investigation, (A, B and C of the committee’s charge) we have focused on the following tasks:

  1. We supervised a survey of employment patterns in thirty representative institutions, the results of which are described in the summary of findings which follows this section of our report, and in Appendix A.
  2. Recognizing that women may feel the current constriction in the job market more acutely than men will, we have composed a questionnaire to be submitted to all Ph.D. recipients of 1970, designed to discover what kinds of employment men and women are offered, why they have taken the jobs they have taken, and how many men and women have not as yet found suitable employment, and if possible, why they have not. (See Appendix B)
  3. We have counted the numbers of women participating in the programs of the annual AHA meetings for one meeting each decade, and counted the numbers of women members on the Association’s committees for one year of each decade. (See Appendix C)
  4. We have planned two sessions for the 1970 meeting of the AHA, the first to explore “Women’s Experience in History; A Teaching Problem,” and the second to present this draft report for the open discussion of interested members of the Association.

The Committee has also explored the considerable literature on the status of women that has accumulated in the form of institutional reports, governmental statistics and reports, and private scholarship. Some of the more important studies and reports are listed in Appendix D. These studies, combined with our own investigations leave us no doubt that prompt action on the part of the AHA is required.

The Committee has placed an initial priority on developing a general picture of the standing of women in the profession rather than on assembling information as to individual cases of alleged discrimination. It did not wish to raise expectations of remedy which could not be fulfilled when there are not as yet procedures for dealing with individual cases. In fact, no issue before us has pointed out more sharply the conflict between the Association’s legitimate interest in equitable professional practices and the inappropriateness of its attempting adjudicate cases of alleged discrimination against individual members, than has the problem raised for the Committee under its charge “to receive and solicit information relating to specific instances of discrimination.” Neither the AHA nor this Committee, which is its creation, can perform judicial functions, and the powers of the Committee to investigate are necessarily limited. The Committee could, however, point out areas of most pressing concern, and the AHA can serve to maintain a continuing awareness of the special problems women face in our profession. The Committee hopes, further, that the recently re-activated Committee on the Status of Women in the AHA will develop viable means of legal redress. The Committee recommends and expects that the AAUP will work actively with other professional associations in forwarding the work of the AAUP toward that end. Beyond that, this Committee has recommended that the executive secretary of the proposed Committee on Women Historians be able to provide full and authoritative information to any member who seeks it, as to the legal recourses women now have at their disposal.

For reasons already given, the Committee has not formally solicited information on specific cases. (See Charge E) It has, however, received in the regular course of its correspondence, a number of letters bearing on particular cases. Over the last eight months some twenty letters to the chairman have revealed alleged instances of discrimination against women in pay, instances of failure to promote to tenure, when tenure seemed indicated, termination of contract with little or no notice, and a number of cases of women unable to find employment commensurate with their training. Many of these letters came from professional men as well as women, who perceived an injustice being done to a woman colleague. Visits to several institutions in various parts of the country and conversations with students and faculty in a wide range of institutions have convinced us that the problems appearing in our letters are general.

Next section: Summary of Findings