History of Women Faculty in Economics

 

History of Women Faculty in Economics

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of women being admitted to U.C. Berkeley "on equal terms in all respects with young men," we offer this history of women faculty in the Economics Department.

The Economics Department at U.C. Berkeley was founded in 1903. In its second year, two women were hired: Jessica Peixotto and Lucy Sprague. Professor Peixotto was hired first as a "lecturer in sociology" and then as an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor of Social Economics. Dr. Peixotto was the first woman on the Berkeley faculty to be awarded the rank of full professor. Lucy Sprague served only one year in the Economics department as a "reader in economics" before becoming the Dean of Women and a lecturer in the English department.

Jessica Peixotto was the first but not the only woman faculty member in the department. In the early 20th century, several other women were hired by the Economics department as faculty: Lucy Stebbins, Lillian Matthews, Lucile Eaves, Louise Morrow, Clara Mortenson, Caroline Schleef, Barbara Grimes Armstrong, Emily Huntington, and others. With the notable exception of Professor Huntington, however, all these women were faculty of "Social Economics." Indeed by the mid-1930s, 5 of the 29 faculty listed in the course catalog were women.

In 1939 the Department of Social Welfare was created, and the women who had been teaching courses such as "The Control of Poverty," "Studies in Standards of Living," "Economics of Consumption," and "Social Insurance" moved from Economics to Social Welfare. By the end of World War II, only 1 woman remained active on the Economics faculty: Emily Huntington. After her retirement in 1961, the department had no women faculty.

The second wave of women in economics begins in 1974 with the hiring of Clair Brown, followed a few years later by Laura Tyson and Joan Hannon. Irma Adelman joins the department as a full professor in 1980, though her primary appointment was in Agricultural and Resource Economics. With the hiring of Alessandra Casella, Bronwyn Hall, and Christina Romer in 1988 and 1989, the modern era was fully underway.

We have assembled here biographical sketches of some of these women. Interviews with Clair Brown, Joan Hannon, and Laura Tyson form the basis of those articles. We also interviewed the son of Dr. Margaret Gordon who served as a Lecturer in the Economics department in the late 1960s and early 1970s, banned by anti-nepotism laws from taking a faculty appointment in the same department as her husband, Robert Aaron Gordon.


 

Jessica Peixotto
Years active: 1904-1934
Jessica Peixotto
Lucy Ward Stebbins
Years active: 1911-1940
Barbara Grimes Armstrong
Years active: 1919-1927
Barbara Grimes Armstrong


Years as a lecturer: 1969-1978

The history of women in the Department of Economics is complicated and it remains unclear whether Margaret Gordon preferred or pursued greater opportunities within the department. In the same field as her husband, Robert (Aaron) Gordon, she was ineligible for a ladder-faculty position due to former anti-nepotism rules. She prioritized her role at home when many young academics in her position would be establishing their careers. Highly educated and industrious, she remained active through civic leadership and research roles while juggling full-time responsibilities for her two children. To learn more about her personal qualities, we interviewed her eldest son, Robert (Bob) Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern University. . . She took the anti-nepotism fate that had cast her into this supporting role as a fait accompli. And she never complained about it and very rarely speculated. Read more . . .

Margaret Shaughnessy Gordon

Clair Brown
Years active: 1974 - present

Clair Brown was the first woman to be hired for a tenure track faculty position at the Berkeley Economics Department, since the beginning of World War II. A native of Florida, Brown completed her Ph.D. in economics with a focus on Labor Economics at the University of Maryland. She joined the Berkeley economics department in January 1974. Brown was not just witness to but was also instrumental in increasing women’s presence in Berkeley’s Economics Department.

A math major at Wellesley, Clair wanted to help make the world a better place. It was the 1960s and change was at the forefront of most college students’ minds. Ultimately, Clair realized there wasn’t much social reform to be done with mathematical proofs. Read more . . .

Clair Brown

Joan Underhill Hannon
Years active: 1977-1986

Joan Underhill Hannon joined the Berkeley Economics department in 1977, upon completion of her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Raised in Long Beach, CA and a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, Hannon is an economic historian whose research focuses on 19th century U.S. immigration and poverty. At Berkeley, Hannon taught graduate and undergraduate courses in economic history. Hannon was denied tenure in 1985. She subsequently moved to and was tenured at St. Mary’s College of California in nearby Moraga, from where she retired in the 2010s. Hannon’s experience and ultimate departure from Berkeley  is an important part of the fabric of women faculty’s experience.

Hannon’s politics and intellectual lens always put her more in what is now termed the “heterodox” camp of economics, and what was in the 1970s and 1980s termed the “Marxist” or “leftist” camp.  Read more . . .

Joan Underhill Hannon

Laura D'Andrea Tyson
Years active: 1977 - present

Professor Tyson was born in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1947. Growing up during a period of rising economic prosperity, a growing middle class,  emerging civil rights and gender equality movements, and cold war geopolitical conflict,  Tyson found herself drawn to public policy.  Her father received his college education through the GI Bill, and she grew up in a home where college education was highly valued as the foundation of a middle class life.

Tyson attended a small co-ed Catholic high school, where Catholic ‘do good’ ideals aligned with the potential for positive impact through policy. Here, she also discovered her talent for math. She was encouraged by  consistent support from her teachers who were mostly nuns,  including a tough-minded, demanding math teacher – a contrast to the ‘girls aren’t good at math’ narrative that persists in high school classrooms today. Read more . . .



originally posted 9/24/2020
updated 12/12/2020
Author: Martha Olney (olney@berkeley.edu)