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COLLECTION Identifier: 78-M20

Papers of Sharon Leijoy Johnson, 1958-1977 (inclusive), 1972-1977 (bulk)


Legal materials relating Professor Sharon Leijoy Johnson's sex discrimination case against the University of Pittsburgh.


  • Creation: 1958-1977
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1972-1977

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Sharon Leijoy Johnson is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


18 linear feet ((18 cartons) plus 9 slides)

This collection consists of legal materials relating to the case of Sharon Leijoy Johnson v. the University of Pittsburgh, and includes transcripts of the trial, plaintiff's and defendant's exhibits, witnesses' depositions, publicity (from national and student newspapers) which describes the progress of the case, and notes written by Johnson for her attorney during the trial. Additionally there are files of her attorney, Sylvia Roberts, including correspondence and notes on other sex discrimination cases, and the files of Johnson containing her grant proposals, correspondence, notebooks of activities etc.


Sharon Leijoy Johnson, scientist and educator, was born in 1934 and received her B.S. from Iowa State University in 1955 and her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1959. A bio-organic chemist working on the structure and mechanism of enzymes, she was Fellow of the Mellon Institute, 1959-1965, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Vassar, 1965-1966, Senior Chemist at the Westinghouse Research and Development laboratories, 1966-1967. In 1967 she was appointed Assistant Professor in the Biochemistry Department of the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. She was on a tenure track and was thought likely to receive tenure by the outgoing chairman of the Department. She had numerous NIH grants and published independent papers of high quality. In January 1972, Johnson was informed that her appointment would terminate in June 1973 on the grounds that her interests were too chemical and did not fit the goals of the department. In October-November 1972, the EEOC held hearings on her case. In February 1973, Johnson filed suit for tenure and backpay and on May 29, 1973 won a landmark preliminary injunction restraining the University of Pittsburgh from firing her while litigation was in process. After preliminary motions, this complex, protracted, non-jury trial began in July 1975. During the course of the trial the University of Pittsburgh's lawyers filed charges against Sylvia Roberts (Johnson's attorney), for professional misconduct, which Roberts, with the aid of the ACLU, managed successfully to dismiss. At issue in this suit and of concern to all women faculty members facing tenure decisions was the University's right to make "arbitrary and subjective judgements about women faculty." The National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund supported Johnson, and Sylvia Roberts, foremost lawyer in sex discrimination cases, served without a fee in the hope of winning a precedent-setting decision relevant both to women in the academic and business professions and in industry and government. The judgment against the plaintiff, Johnson, August 3, 1977 cleared the University of Pittsburgh of charges of sex discrimination on the grounds that the University of Pittsburgh had articulated legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons for failing to grant tenure, namely the ineffectiveness of Johnson's teaching and lack of relevance of her research to the mission of the department. On August 4, 1977, Johnson reached a written agreement with the University of Pittsburgh not to appeal in return for Pittsburgh's pledge not to sue for legal fees and court costs. Additionally Johnson continued as Research Associate for one year until June 30, 1978, so as to enable her to find another position and so as to retain her grant.


The collection is arranged in four series:

  1. Series I: Lawsuit
  2. Series II: Sylvia Roberts's files re sex discrimination cases and correspondence.
  3. Series III: Affirmative Action and the University of Pittsburgh
  4. Series IV: Sharon Leijoy Johnson's files

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 78-M20

This collection was given to the Schlesinger Library on February 22, 1978 by Sharon Leijoy Johnson.


The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. 23 cartons of duplicates and photocopies of court documents
  2. 2 cartons containing: scientific reprints of witnesses (see lists on CVs), reprints relating to relevance of Biochemistry to Medical Schools (see folder #434), Sharon Leijoy Johnson's reprints (see list in #561), printed material re Affirmative Action at University of Pittsburgh (to Schlesinger Library printed collection), printed material re women in Science (to Schlesinger Library printed collection), oversize poster of Mark Spitz (for relevance see #42v. p9950-9952), molecular models used during Sharon Leijoy Johnson's testimony, University of Pittsburgh Medical School publications (annual report, faculty lists)


  1. Carton 1: 1v-6v
  2. Carton 2: 7v-16v
  3. Carton 3: 17v-33v
  4. Carton 4: 34v-56
  5. Carton 5: 57v-73
  6. Carton 6: 74-144
  7. Carton 7: 145-190
  8. Carton 8: 191-199
  9. Carton 9: 200-217
  10. Carton 10: 218-229
  11. Carton 11: 230-267
  12. Carton 12: 268-293
  13. Carton 13: 294-335
  14. Carton 14: 336-361
  15. Carton 15: 362-402
  16. Carton 16: 403-451
  17. Carton 17: 452-547
  18. Carton 18: 548-566

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: June 1980

By: Jane S. Knowles

Johnson, Sharon Leijoy, 1934-2013. Papers of Sharon Leijoy Johnson, 1958-1977 (inclusive), 1972-1977 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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