Hanna Holborn Gray


Honorary Degree (1994)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Myles Brand


Hanna Holborn Gray recently retired as president of the University of Chicago, where she continues to serve as professor of the history of the Renaissance. She is a leading authority on Florence under the Medici and on Renaissance studies in general, including humanism. In an article on Renaissance humanism that she published thirty years ago, she described the educational goals of the humanists to be the cultivation not only of knowledge but of wisdom. In her work as a scholar and an administrator, Dr. Gray embodies the very best of classical humanism.

Hanna Gray, born in Heidelberg, Germany, graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1950. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford. In 1957 she received her Ph.D. in Renaissance and Reformation history from Harvard University. She continued as an instructor and an assistant professor in history at Harvard; in 1959 she became head tutor of the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature. From 1961 through 1972 she taught history at the University of Chicago, achieving tenure in 1964. She began her administrative career in higher education when Northwestern University called her to the post of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1974 she was made provost at Yale University and in 1977 served for a year as acting president. The following year she was invited to return to the University of Chicago to take up the position of president there.

In her fourteen years as president of the University of Chicago, Hanna Gray distinguished herself by the high standards, the foresight, the wisdom, and the tangible accomplishments she brought to the university. She was a remarkable steward of the great tradition and resources of Chicago and helped to establish a new graduate professional school of public policy and a department of computer science. She shepherded the revision of the undergraduate curriculum and a reform of graduate education in an institution that is widely known for excellence in both. Her accomplishments include the strengthening not only of curricula and programs but also of the university libraries, research facilities, and hospitals.

Dr. Gray has received fifty-six honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. She is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1991), the Sara Lee Frontrunner Award (1991), and the Radcliffe Graduate Medal (1976), and was one of twelve distinguished foreign-born Americans to receive the Medal of Liberty at ceremonies marking the rekindling of the Statue of Liberty's lamp in 1986. Dr. Gray has served as a trustee of Bryn Mawr College, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University. In addition to her many academic leadership responsibilities, she has served on the board of such prestigious organizations as Ameritech, Atlantic Richfield, Cummins Engine Company, J. P. Morgan and Company, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Hanna Holborn Gray is one of the best models of the educator/scholar. Her practical wisdom, combined with her scholarly acumen, bear witness to the validity of the claims of many Renaissance humanists that the best learning is both practical and broad, deftly employing the scholarly tools of the present even as it draws from the treasures of the past. She has demonstrated considerable skill in fiscal management of one of the world's leading universities, she has given direction to the educational program of many of the world's leading institutions of higher learning, and she has contributed richly to teaching and research in the history of the Renaissance.