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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 735; T-451; Vt-232

Papers of Ruth Hubbard, 1920-2007 (inclusive), 1980-2005 (bulk)

Speeches, writings, correspondence, audio and videotapes, and electronic records of biologist and feminist Ruth Hubbard.


  • 1920-2007
  • Majority of material found within 1980-2005

Language of Materials

Materials in English, German, and Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. #26.3 is closed until January 1, 2062. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Ruth Hubbard is held by Ruth Hubbard during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright descends to her son, Elijah Wald, who will hold it until 2060. Copyright will then be transferred and assigned to 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.


12.93 linear feet ((31 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 5 photograph folders, 9 audiotapes, 13 videotapes, electronic records)

The collection documents portions of Hubbard's professional life. No material related to her teaching career and very little personal material is included. The collection includes correspondence; conference and speech material; writings; photographs; and files relating to organizations with which she was active, including the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights; and audio and videotapes. The processor created the folder headings; original headings, when used, appear in quotation marks.

Series I, Personal and correspondence, 1920-2005 (#1.1-9.11, PD.1-PD.2, FD.1, SD.1), includes interviews with Hubbard (#4.21, 9.3, 9.8); photographs of Hubbard and family members; her mother's medical school diploma (#SD.1), medical license (#9.6), and obituary (#9.6); material related to trips to Africa (#9.9), Austria (#9.10), and Norway (#9.11); and chronological and alphabetical correspondence. Correspondents include colleagues, friends, and students. Topics include upcoming conferences, discussions of Hubbard's work and the work of colleagues and friends, letters of recommendation, and the health and activities of family, friends, and colleagues. Of particular note are a poem she wrote in 1974 (#8.6); a letter in which she discusses her feelings after the death of George Wald (#7.1); correspondence with Lisl Gaal, with whom Hubbard went to school in Vienna (#6.3-6.4); correspondence with Sophie Freud (#1.14-2.3, 5.8, 6.4-6.5, 7.1, 7.4, 7.7, 8.4), in which the two women discuss daily activities and their shared political convictions, but sometimes clash over personal and philosophical beliefs; journal entries that Margaret Randall sent to friends (#6.1, 6.2, 6.4); Suzanne Gardinier's letters to Hubbard's mother, Helene Hoffman (#2.5); and correspondence with and regarding Kathy Boudin (#1.5-1.7, 8.2). (Boudin was a member of the Weather Underground and was involved in the 1981 Brinks robbery.) The series is arranged alphabetically. For further material related to speaking engagements and conferences, see Series II.

Series II, Professional, 1979-2006 (#9.12-25.11, PD.3-PD.5, F+D.1, OD.1, Vt-232.1 - Vt-232.13, T-451.1 - T-451.9), reflects Hubbard's concerns with the ethics of gene research and testing, sociobiology, and healthcare, particularly in regard to women, and women's rights. The series includes speeches; conference materials; flyers and posters; audio and videotapes, including a videotape of the symposium honoring Hubbard upon her retirement from Harvard University (#Vt-232.1); and correspondence about speaking engagements in the U.S. and abroad. Not all folders include speeches. Speech topics include "Gender Ideology and the Biology of Sex Differences," "Why Genes Are a Poor Predictor of Behavior," "Genetic Screening in the Work Place," "The Politics of Women's Health," the human genome project, and "Hitler Refugee in America, Woman in Science." Also included are articles and book reviews by Hubbard; her comments on articles by others; correspondence related to actual or proposed writing projects; and research notes. Many articles address issues related to eugenics, genetic testing, fetal/maternal conflict, and women's health and biology. Of particular note is the material related to The Shape of Red (#24.11-24.12), a book composed of Hubbard's correspondence with Margaret Randall. The series is arranged alphabetically in two groupings with Speeches and appearances arranged chronologically therein and Writings arranged alphabetically. Additional material received as electronic files will be reformatted at some future date for inclusion in this series.

Series III, Activism, 1982-2007 (#25.12-31.8), consists primarily of correspondence, publicity, meeting minutes, and position papers for groups in which Hubbard was active. These include the Council for Responsible Genetics (#27.6-30.2), the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (#26.4-27.1), the Boston Committee for Palestinian Rights (#26.2), the Cambridge AIDS task force (#27.2), the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (#27.4-27.5), the Working Group on Israel-Palestine Peace and Justice (#31.8), and the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (#31.2-31.4). Also included are clippings, correspondence, notes, and legal documents for Hubbard's lawsuit against the federal government regarding the ban on travel to Cuba in the early 1980s. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Biologist and feminist Ruth Hoffmann Hubbard was born in Vienna, Austria, on March 3, 1924, the eldest child of Richard and Helene (Ehrlich) Hoffmann, both physicians. (Richard was a dermatologist, and Helene, a pediatrician.) She had a younger brother, Alexander (an attorney and activist, who helped to defend Lenny Bruce, Cesar Chavez, and members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, including Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver), and a foster-brother, Benjamin S. Goldstein. In 1938 the family emigrated to the United States, settling in Brookline, Massachusetts, where Hubbard attended school. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1944 with a B.A. in Biochemical Sciences. She worked as a research assistant for the Army Engineer Board contract at Harvard University from 1944 to 1945 and as a laboratory technician for the Tennessee Public Health Service from 1945 to 1946, before returning to Radcliffe and receiving her Ph.D. in 1950. She received a U.S. Public Health Service pre-doctoral fellowship at University College Hospital in London, England, from 1948 to 1949. She married Frank Hubbard in 1942; they divorced in 1951.

Hubbard originally planned to become a doctor, but while an undergraduate she realized that the field of biochemistry offered more opportunities for women. In 1950 she began working as a research fellow at Harvard University. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship at Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 1952 to 1953, and then returned to Harvard as a research fellow from 1954 to 1958. As a research fellow, she worked with George Wald, investigating the biochemistry of retinal and retinol. She and Wald began a relationship and married in 1959; they had two children, Elijah, a musician and musicologist, and Deborah, an attorney. Wald, who won the Nobel Prize in 1967 in physiology or medicine for his discoveries about vision, died in 1997.

In 1958 she was promoted to research associate and she became a lecturer in 1968; she held these positions until 1973, when she became the first woman to be awarded a tenured biology professorship at Harvard. Hubbard's research made major contributions to the understanding of the photochemistry and biochemistry of vision in vertebrates and invertebrates. In her book, The Politics of Women's Biology, she wrote that she had been a "devout scientist" from 1947 until the late 1960s, but the Vietnam War and the women's liberation movement led her to change her priorities. Her interests shifted from research towards political and social issues and, after being promoted to a tenured faculty position, she felt able to pursue these interests. She has written and lectured on the politics of health care and the importance of educating women about their bodies, and on the sociology of science. She also became particularly concerned about ethical standards in genetic research, and about the emphasis on genes as the determining factor in individuals' sexuality and other characteristics. A strong critic of sociobiology, she has written and lectured widely on these issues. In 1982, she was one of the founders of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a nonprofit non-governmental agency aiming to represent the public interest on issues in biotechnology. She has served on the boards of the Boston Women's Fund and the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and as a consultant to the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. She retired from Harvard in 1990.

Hubbard is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including Doctor of Science degrees from the University of Toronto and from Southern Methodist University, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's Peace and Freedom Award, the Feminist Marathoner award from the Boston Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the Paul Karrer Medal of the University of Zürich (shared with George Wald). She is the author of more than 150 articles and the editor and author of many books including The Shape of Red: Insider/Outsider Reflections, co-written with Margaret Randall (1988); The Politics of Women's Biology (1990); Profitable Promises: Essays on Women, Science and Health (1995); and Exploding the Gene Myth, co-written with Elijah Wald (1993).


The collection is arranged in three series:
  1. Series I. Personal and correspondence, 1920-2005 (#1.1-9.11, PD.1-PD.2, FD.1, SD.1)
  2. Series II. Professional 1979-2006 (#9.12-25.11, PD.3-PD.5, F+D.1, OD.1, Vt-232.1 - Vt-232.13, T-451.1 - T-451.9)
  3. Series III. Activism, 1982-2007 (#25.12-31.8)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2009-M66, 2011-M113

The papers of Ruth Hubbard were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ruth Hubbard between April 2009 and June 2011.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Harvard University Archives: Papers of Ruth Hubbard [unprocessed accessions], 1975-1993.

Processing Information

Processed: May 2013

By: Susan Earle, with the assistance of Samuel Bauer.
Link to catalog
Hubbard, Ruth, 1924-2016. Papers of Ruth Hubbard, 1920-2007 (inclusive), 1980-2005 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Radcliffe College Class of 1957.

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.

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