Evelynn M. Hammonds

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Evelynn M. Hammonds
Born (1953-01-02) January 2, 1953 (age 68)
OccupationProfessor, scholar
TitleBarbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African-American Studies
Academic background
EducationHarvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Spelman College
Georgia Institute of Technology
Academic work
Sub-disciplineHistory of Science, Medicine, Biomedical Sciences, Public Health, in the 19th and 20th centuries, United States;
Race, Gender, and Science Studies, United States;
Feminist Theory, United States
InstitutionsHarvard University

Evelynn M. Hammonds (born 1953) is an American feminist and scholar. She is the Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and Professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and former Dean of Harvard College. The intersections of race, gender, science and medicine are prominent research topics across her published works.[1] Hammonds received degrees in engineering and physics. Before getting her PhD in the History of Science at Harvard, she was a computer programmer. She began her teaching career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, later moving to Harvard. In 2008, Hammonds was appointed dean, the first African-American and the first woman to head the College. She returned to full-time teaching in 2013.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Hammonds was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 2, 1953 to Evelyn Baker Hammonds and William Hammonds Jr.[3] Her mother was a schoolteacher, and her father was a postal worker. Her father aspired to become an engineer, after studying chemistry and mathematics, but was unable to attend the segregated Georgia Institute of Technology.[3] Evelynn M. Hammonds became interested in history and science as a student at Collier Heights Elementary School in Atlanta and this interest was fostered by an early exposure to science through her parents. Her high school education was disrupted by integration and discrimination, forcing her to switch from Charles Lincoln Harper High School to Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School in 1967. After experiencing discrimination from students and teachers, she completed her secondary education at Southwest High School.[3]

A National Merit Scholar, Hammonds attended Spelman College where she enrolled in a joint engineering program with Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1976 she graduated from both universities with degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering respectively. While she was an undergraduate, she spent two summers working at Bell Labs through a research fellowship program that recruited minorities in the sciences.[4] The program provided structured mentorship and placement within a lab group, and she recalls, "... it was my first exposure to the world of big science. It had a profound effect on me, and I really wanted to do well."[5] It was during her work here that she was first published, and she became friends with Cecilia Conrad. Conrad took Hammonds up to Boston, as Conrad was a student at Wellesley College at the time, and they visited the MIT campus together which impressed Hammonds and inspired her. Then, because of the Society of Physics Students at Spelman College, Hammond was introduced to Shirley Ann Jackson and Ronald McNair. She recalls that Jackson was, "the first black woman I ever met who was a physicist, and ... she went to MIT so that's how I pretty much decided that [MIT] was the only place I wanted to go."[5]

Following graduation, she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a PhD program but left the course of study early in 1980, earning a master's degree in physics. Upon leaving academia, she began a five-year career as a software engineer, but found this to be unchallenging and returned to Harvard University.[3] In 1993, she graduated with a PhD in the History of Science.[1]


Upon graduation from Harvard, Hammonds was invited to teach at MIT. While she was there, she was the founding director of MIT's center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology, and Medicine.[1] She also helped organize the first national academic conference for black female scholars, Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name 1894-1994[6] a national conference convened at MIT in 1994 to address historical and contemporary issues faced by African-American women in academia.[7]

In 2002, she returned to Harvard and joined as a professor in the departments of the History of Science and of African and African-American Studies. She received the title of Dean at Harvard College in 2008 and was the 4th black woman to receive tenure within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.[8] Before this, Hammonds had served as the first senior vice provost for Harvard's Faculty Development and Diversity.[9]


Hammonds' research focuses on the intersection of science, medicine, and race. Many of her works analyze gender and races in the perspective of science and medicine. She is concerned with how science examines human variation through race. Hammonds mainly studies the time period of the 17th century to present while focusing on history of diseases and African-American feminism. In 1997, Hammond's article "Toward a Genealogy of Black Female Sexuality: The Problematic of Silence" was published in Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader.[10] In this article, Hammond focuses on the intersection of black female sexuality and AIDS. She argues that black female sexuality (from the 19th century to present) was formed in exact opposition to that of white women. She argues that, historically, many black feminists have failed to develop a concept of black female sexuality. Hammonds then discusses the limitations of black women's sexuality and how that affects black women with AIDS.

Hammonds believes black women are capable of more than their socially acceptable definition of their own sexuality, but yet they are unable to express it. This is a consequence of black women being unable to define sexuality in their own terms. She dates the earliest records of these definitions in the early 19th century with Sarah Baartman as the "Hottentot Venus".[10] This was a black woman who was put on display and seen as vulgar because she had larger anatomical body parts than those of her white counterparts. Today, we still see the continuation of the effects of the association of black women with uncontrolled sexuality. This was largely in part due to the comparison of black women to Victorian white women. Black women were seen as hypersexual. White society thought that black female sexuality undermined the morals and values of their society.[10]

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, black women reformers were set on developing a new definition of black female sexuality. This new definition was an image of a super moral black female to align itself with the super moral Victorian women. These black women were set on deconstructing the hypersexual notion of the black female sexuality. Hammonds argues that by silencing the voice of the black female, the reformers oppressed black women without deconstructing the notion of the hypersexual connotation.[10]

Hammonds states that in order for black women to be free from oppression, black women must reclaim their sexuality. The definition of black female sexuality was always defined by an outside group looking in, first by white males and then by white females. Black females must define their own sexuality in order to overcome oppression. She states that this repeated silence has become a notion of "invisibility" to describe black females' lives. Even women with prestige in academia are still under invisibility when they are told what issues they can and cannot lecture about.[10] Hammonds continues to extend the "invisibility" of black women to the field of medicine and science. Black women have been oppressed for so many years that negative stereotypes have been formed about black women and now to black women with AIDS. These stereotypes have created a void between black women with AIDS and society. The public continues to hold black women up to the stereotype of hypersexual and black women with AIDS are forced to deal with this oppression.[10]

E-mail search scandal at Harvard[edit]

In March 2013, Hammonds and Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Michael D. Smith announced that they had ordered a search of the email records of Harvard administrators in order to identify whether individuals had leaked information to the media regarding the university's investigation of the 2012 Harvard cheating scandal. Hammonds and Smith had asked the administrators whether or not they leaked any information to anybody, in response to The Crimson publishing a description of an internal email regarding the cheating scandal and athletes' eligibility. No administrators came forward; Hammonds and Smith informed these administrators that there would need to be additional investigation. In response, Hammonds ordered an email search and identified the individual responsible for disseminating these internal email communications.

In April, Hammonds announced that her earlier statement had not been complete as she had failed to recollect a second email search, this time of the account of the specific Allston Burr Resident Dean responsible for the leak. Hammonds did not inform Smith of this second search, violating the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' email privacy policy.[11]

The Harvard Crimson called on Hammonds to resign.[12] Then, on May 28, Hammonds announced that she would resign to lead a new Harvard research program on race and gender in science. Hammonds said that her decision to resign was unrelated to the email search incident.[13][14]

An independent review of the email searches, released in July 2013, concluded that those involved were "acting in good faith" with the goal to protect student confidentiality.[citation needed][15]

Notable publications[edit]

  • Childhood's Deadly Scourge: The Campaign to Control Diphtheria in New York City, 1880 - 1930 (1999, Johns Hopkins University Press)
  • The Nature of Difference: Sciences of Race in the United States from Jefferson to Genomics (2008, MIT Press)
  • The Harvard Sampler: Liberal Education for the Twenty-first Century (2011, Harvard University Press)
  • The Dilemma of Classification: The Past in the Present (2011, Rutgers University Press)[16]


  1. ^ a b c "Evelynn M. Hammond". Harvard University Department of the History of Science: People. Harvard University. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  2. ^ "Hammonds to step down as dean in July". Harvard Gazette. Harvard University. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d "The History Makers Video Oral History Interview with Evelynn M. Hammonds" (PDF). The History Makers. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  4. ^ "Lesson Plan, "The Black Scientific Renaissance of the 1970s-90s: African American Scientists at Bell Laboratories"" (PDF). American Institute of Physics. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Evelynn M. Hammonds's Biography". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  6. ^ "Collection: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Black Women in the Academy: Defending Our Name, 1894-1994 conference records | MIT ArchivesSpace". archivesspace.mit.edu. Retrieved 2020-06-10.
  7. ^ "Evelynn M. Hammonds, 1980 | MIT Black History". www.blackhistory.mit.edu. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  8. ^ The History Makers, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/evelynn-m-hammonds-40, interviewed December 3, 2004
  9. ^ "Evelynn M. Hammonds". White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Price, Janet; Shildrick, Margrit (1997). Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader. New York: Taylor & Francis. pp. 249–59. ISBN 0415925665.
  11. ^ Fandos, Nicholas (2 April 2013). "Revelation of Second Email Search Contradicts Administrators' Previous Statement". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  12. ^ "To Rebuild Trust, Hammonds Must Resign". The Harvard Crimson. 4 April 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  13. ^ Perez-Pena, Richard (28 May 2013). "Harvard Dean Who Handled E-Mail Searches to Step Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  14. ^ Staff, Globe (28 May 2013). "Evelynn Hammonds to step down as Harvard College dean". Boston Globe. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  15. ^ Keating, Michael B. (July 15, 2013). "Report to the Subcommittee of the Harvard Corporation on Email Searches Conducted in Connection with the Academic Integrity Cases" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Evelynn M. Hammonds CV". Harvard University. Retrieved April 24, 2018.

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