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

Papers of Ruth Hubbard, 1916-2011 (inclusive), 1970-2005 (bulk)


Speeches, professional writings, poetry, memoirs, diaries, correspondence, photographs, audio and videotapes, and electronic records of biologist and feminist Ruth Hubbard.


  • Creation: 1916-2011
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1970-2005

Language of Materials

Materials in English, German, and Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

As specified in the agreement between Ruth Hubbard and the Schlesinger Library, access to Hubbard's journals, 1970-2011 (#34.18-46.2 and 52.3) requires the written permission of her daughter Deborah Wald or her son Elijah Wald until January 1, 2060.

#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.


24.4 linear feet ((58 + 1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folders, 2 oversize folders, 3 supersize folders, 9 photograph folders, 1 folio+ photograph folders, 11 audiotapes, 13 videotapes)
1.63 Megabytes (39 files)

The collection documents Hubbard's personal life and portions of her professional life. No material related to her teaching career is included. The collection includes diaries; autobiographical writings; poetry; correspondence; conference and speech material; professional 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. Additional material received 2015-2018 (accession numbers 2015-M71, 2016-M1, 2017-M78, 2018-M228) was added to the collection in May 2019. These materials are housed in #32.1-59.5. All other files remain in the same order. While the original collection included very little personal material, the bulk of the addenda consists of Hubbard's diaries and personal writings.

Electronic records were received on sixteen 3.5" disks and one 5.25" disk. Data on the 5.25" disk was not recoverable. The 3.5" disks were imaged using FTK Imager. Selected data has been converted to PDF/A for preservation and delivery. The majority of these files (#E.8-E.39) are included in Series IV; a few files (#E.1-E.7) related to folders in Series II and are listed there.

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, E.1-E.7), 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.

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.

Series IV, Addenda, 1916-2011 (#32.1-59.5, F+D.2-F+D.3, OD.2, SD.2-SD.3, PD.6-PD.10, T-451.10 - T-451.11, E.8-E.39), includes Hubbard's diaries, poetry, and autobiographical writings; conference materials, speeches, articles, and papers; and correspondence, meeting minutes and position papers for the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and the Council for Responsible Genetics, as well as legal documents pertaining to the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba. It is arranged in the three subseries (mirroring the arrangement of the original collection) described below.

Subseries A, Personal and correspondence, 1916-201l, undated (#32.1-50.3, F+D.2, OD.2, SD.2-SD.3, PD.6-PD.10, E.8-E.10), includes Hubbard's resume; diplomas and awards; calendars; passports and other travel documents; writings by Hubbard's father, Richard Hoffmann, and correspondence. The correspondence includes letters and cards Hubbard received for her 70th and 80th birthdays; a poem she wrote honoring storyteller Brother Blue and his wife, the oral historian Ruth Hill; and correspondence with publishers regarding the possible publication of Hubbard's memoir and other books, and royalty statements for her published books. Of note is a letter in which Hubbard comments on the sexism and racism of "white males who consider themselves neither sexist nor racist."

The series also includes background materials for Hubbard's autobiography and drafts of her memoirs. The background materials include Richard and Helene Hoffmann's correspondence with friends during their emigration from Austria; a World War II ration book; Richard Hoffmann's admissions ticket for a medical board examination and medical articles by him; an obituary for Hubbard's first husband; and articles about Hubbard, including Harvard's investigation into whether male students were excluded from one of her classes. Hubbard's autobiographical writings include essays on her childhood, being Jewish, and becoming a scientist. She also wrote about multiple generations of women in her family and about George Wald's illness and death. Also included are poems by Hubbard, including "mourning poems" for her parents and George Wald, and her translations of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. Hubbard belonged to a small writing group for several years, and the subseries includes poems and stories she submitted to the group, with group members' comments, as well as writings by other members, with Hubbard's comments.

The bulk of the subseries consists of the diaries Hubbard kept from 1970 to 2011. For much of this period she made at least one detailed diary entry each day. Topics include her professional life; her relationships with her husband and children, and with friends and colleagues; her appreciation of solitude; and travel. In 1988, Helene "Hella" Hoffmann, who was living with Hubbard and George Wald, fell in her bedroom, hitting her head, and bled to death in the night; Hubbard's diary entries from this period express her shock and grief over this event. The diaries from 1994 to 1997 address George Wald's worsening health and eventual death, and in these and later diaries, Hubbard records her thoughts on the aging process. Access to Hubbard's journals (#34.18-46.2, 52.3) requires the written permission of Deborah or Elijah Wald until January 1, 2060. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Professional, 1969-2008 (#50.4-58.8, F+D.3, T-451.10 - T-451.11, E.11-E.37), includes speeches; conference materials; flyers and posters; and correspondence regarding Hubbard's speaking engagements in the U.S. and abroad. Of note is a scrapbook commemorating her retirement from Harvard. The series also includes testimony Hubbard gave at Massachusetts Legislature hearings regarding genetically modified foods and science and technology. Many of the folders include correspondence and conference programs, rather than the speeches Hubbard gave at the events. #E.11-E.15 contain digital versions of some of her speeches. Conference themes include "The Fight for Abortion Rights," "History and Memory: Gender at Harvard and Radcliffe," "Gender and Justice in the Gene Age," and "Biotechnology and Public Health."

The subseries also contains articles, letters to the editor, and book reviews by Hubbard, with topics including the ethics of genetic testing; science and gender; and identity politics. Materials of note include a manuscript about her husband George Wald (co-written with Elijah Wald); the essay "Memories of Life at Radcliffe"; an essay on Hubbard's feelings about the use of animals in scientific experiments; and reviews, interviews, correspondence, and edited proofs for Exploding the Gene Myth. The subseries is arranged alphabetically in two groupings with Speeches and appearances arranged chronologically therein and Writings arranged alphabetically. Some material in this subseries overlaps with materials in Series II.

Subseries C, Activism, 1983-2011 (#58.8-59.5, E.38-E.39) documents Hubbard's work with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and the Council for Responsible Genetics. Included are materials for a Boston Women's Health Book Collective retreat; Council for Responsible Genetics funding proposals, meeting notes, position papers, and articles. The subseries also includes documents related to the Supreme Court's ruling in Hubbard's lawsuit regarding the Cuba travel ban. The subseries is arranged alphabetically. There is some overlap with Series III.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database.


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, known as Sascha, (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 BA 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. Frank Hubbard became a distinguished maker of harpsichords.

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, revised 1997, 1999). Hubbard died in 2016.


The collection is arranged in four 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, E.1-E.7)
  3. Series III. Activism, 1982-2007 (#25.12-31.8)
  4. Series IV. Addenda, 1916-2011 (#32.1-59.5, F+D.2-F+D.3, OD.2, SD.2-SD.3, PD.6-PD.10, T-451.10 - T-451.11, E.8-E.39)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2009-M66, 2011-M113. Accession numbers: 2015-M71, 2016-M1, 2017-M78, 2018-M228 were added in July 2019.

The papers of Ruth Hubbard were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ruth Hubbard between April 2009 and June 2011, with additional donations from Hubbard and her children Deborah and Elijah Wald between May 2015 and May 2017. Additional material was transferred to the collection from the Bonnie Spanier Interviews collection (MC 954) in December 2018.

Related Material:

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


Donors: Ruth Hubbard

Accession number: 2015-M71

Processed by: Susan Earle

The following material has been removed from the collection and offered to the Schlesinger Library Printed Materials Division:

  1. Briefing Paper (Institute for Women's Policy Research), 1998
  2. Mamm, Vol. 2, Issue 11, May 1999
  3. Research-in-Brief (Institute for Women's Policy Research), 2000?
  4. Silent Spring Review, Winter 2002

The following item was removed from the collection and offered to Harvard University's Cabot Science Library:

  1. Gene Watch, Volume 22 Number 5 September-October 2009

The following items were removed from the collection and offered to Harvard University's Widener Library:

  1. Center for Cuban Studies Newsletter, November 1992
  2. Cuba Solidarity, August/September 1993, No. 8
  3. Cuba Update, April 1992 and No.1-2 1993

Processing Information

Processed: May 2013

By: Susan Earle, with the assistance of Samuel Bauer.

Updated and additional materials added: July 2019 By: Susan Earle with the assistance of Ashley Thomas.

Hubbard, Ruth, 1924-2016. Papers of Ruth Hubbard, 1916-2011 (inclusive), 1970-2005 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by gifts from the Radcliffe College Class of 1957, the Ware Acquisitions Fund at the Schlesinger Library and the Archival Processing Fund.

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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