Henrietta Larson, a graduate of St. Olaf College who earned her Ph.D. at Columbia, joined the Business School faculty in 1929 as an associate in research. She was recruited to the School by N. S. B. Gras, who was trying to define the field of “business history” and integrate it into the HBS curriculum.

Larson published Jay Cooke, Private Banker in 1936, and in 1939—the same year she became an assistant professor—she published a Casebook in American Business History with N. S. B. Gras. Perhaps her most significant works were the History of Humble Oil & Refining Company, and two of the volumes in an ambitious four-volume history of the Standard Oil Company.

She was promoted to associate professor in 1942, and through a series of one-year appointments, remained at that rank until 1961. This reflected the fact that at that time, women were not tenured at HBS. Throughout her career at HBS, in fact, Larson swam upstream against a tide of slights at an institution that—while it respected her research and teaching skills—simply had no career track or role models for women professors.

But her colleagues and students in Business History admired her enormously. “We have worked with her closely,” wrote her colleagues Ralph and Muriel Hidy, upon her retirement in 1961, “valued her calm judgment, and appreciated her unstinting gift of time and ideas to us and many other students. We have known her further as a devoted member of a close-knit family; in her home for several years she had, as they were completing their education, one or more children of her widower brother.”

When she retired, she was designated "emerita," and thereby became the Business School's first woman full professor. In 1979, she received the Harvard Business School Association's award for distinguished service: the first woman to be so honored.

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Henrietta Larson