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WHM: The Legacy of Dr. Shirley Graham

Andrew and Dr. Shirley Graham.
Dr. Graham’s 9-year battle against sex and gender discrimination in academia.

Story written in collaboration with Andrew Graham.

Women’s History Month (WHM) was born from International Women’s Day, the origins of which can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City to protest working conditions and demand voting rights. It wasn’t until 1978 that Women’s History Week emerged very close to us, in Sonoma County! Women’s groups across the country advocated for national recognition, which led President Jimmy Carter to declare the first “National Women’s History Week” in 1980. The week was chosen to include March 8th, International Women’s Day. In 1987, Congress passed a law to designate March as “Women’s History Month” in order to recognize the often-overlooked contributions women have made to national history.

We’d like to recognize one woman in particular who is connected to our community by way of Andrew Graham, MA, Senior Biostatistician in Dr. Meng Lin’s Lab. Andrew shared with us that his mother, Dr. Shirley Graham, led a 9-year battle against sex and gender discrimination in academia.

Here is his personal recounting of her story:

“My childhood was significantly impacted throughout by my mom's sex discrimination lawsuit against Kent State University in 1974. At the time, men were awarded tenure track faculty positions while equally qualified wives were given one-year contracts. When my mom and another woman filed complaints, their contracts were terminated. Charges were filed against Kent State with the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare, The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. My dad – tenured faculty – of course supported her throughout 9 years of raising 3 kids on mostly one income and battling for her right to conduct her research.

My mom got her PhD from the University of Michigan, a post-doc from Harvard, and was a Fullbright Scholar – no small feat for a woman scientist in the 1960s. After the discrimination complaints were filed, two former grad students with masters degrees were hired to take on all of her previous duties at KSU – not coincidentally, both men. It took 9 years and 3 changes of federal administration before all university appeals were lost and the US Dept. of Labor started proceedings to strip Kent State University of all federal grants and contracts. The university finally had to settle in 1982, awarding her the long overdue full-time faculty position and access to NSF grants.

Her case had far-reaching implications for women's rights in academia, and for the implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment to sex and gender discrimination. Today at 87 years, she serves as a curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, is still actively conducting research, and has over 100 publications and nearly 3000 citations. She was also recently elected a Fellow of the Explorers Club, to which women were first admitted in 1981 and with such illustrious members as Neil Armstrong, Theodore Roosevelt, and Edmund Hillary. Just a few of her recent travels included Mongolia, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Brazil, and Antarctica.” – Andrew Graham.

We thank Dr. Graham for her contributions to gender equality in academia and we thank her son, Andrew, for sharing her story and continuing her legacy!

About The Photos

1. Andrew Graham (pictured left) with his mother, Dr. Shirley Graham (center), and his father, the late Dr. Alan Graham (right).
2. A newspaper article from 1962, featuring Dr. Shirley Graham.

Learn about the origin of WHM, and upcoming WHM events by clicking the button below!

Women’s History Month