Exploring the Legacy of Louise Lamphere v. Brown University

June 18, 2013

To mark Brown’s 250th anniversary, the Pembroke Center will explore Louise Lamphere v. Brown University, Civil Action 75-0140, the class action case that charged the University with sexual discrimination against its own faculty. After analyzing the effects of this case on Brown, and its national significance for diversity in higher education, the Center will mount an exhibit and offer public programs to illuminate this pivotal moment in Brown’s history and its aftermath. The Pembroke Center is partnering with the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage and the Brown University Library on this examination of a critical period in Brown’s history.

An assistant professor in Anthropology, Lamphere was denied tenure in 1974. Dissatisfied by explanations that contradicted her performance reviews and ignored the successful promotion of male peers with similar records, Lamphere unsuccessfully pursued a year of internal appeals before filing charges of sex discrimination in U.S. District Court. Lamphere’s complaint, entered “on behalf of herself and all other persons similarly situated,” charged Brown University and three individual defendants – Anthropology Chair Phillip Leis, Provost Merton Stoltz, and President Donald Hornig – with violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The aftermath of the case changed the face of Brown. When the case was settled by a Consent Decree before its scheduled trial, some members of the campus community responded with relief, others with anger.  Signed by President Swearer in 1978, reviewed and extended in 1989, and finally vacated in 1992, the Decree’s court-ordered affirmative action policies provided goals and timetables for hiring women faculty and established a Monitoring Committee to govern hiring and promotion with consistency and transparency. It stipulated that in cases where a faculty search produced two equally qualified candidates, the department would give preference to hiring women over white men. As a result, tenured female professors at Brown increased from 12 in 1977 to 67 in 1992.


The purpose of the archive, exhibit, and related programming is to reconsider the Lamphere case and its legacy to inform audiences unfamiliar with this part of Brown’s history and to reassess the suit’s impact. The interactive multimedia exhibit will be installed in Pembroke Hall from March through May 2015 and subsequently preserved online.