Minna Regina Falk
1900 – 1983
The liberation of the concentration camps at the end of World War II made a lasting impression on historian Minna Regina Falk. Falk was on leave from her teaching position at New York University (NYU) at the time, serving as an administrator in Europe with the American Red Cross. The events of the war heightened her resolve to return to academia and complete her own book about the history of Germany. Falk rejected other offers of work to return to teaching and research, but NYU was slow to grant her both leave to write and the promotions that came more readily to her male colleagues. Her textbook, The History of Germany: From the Reformation to the Present Day, was not published until 1957. In 1963, thirty-seven years after joining the history faculty, Minna Falk became the first female historian to become full professor at New York University.
Falk spent her entire academic life at NYU. She began her teaching career at NYU (then called Washington Square College) in 1926. She received an M.A. in history in 1927 and, in 1934, became the first person to receive a Ph.D. in European history from NYU. In addition to a heavy teaching load, she was active in extracurricular affairs. In the early 1940s she was the administrator of the Music Box Canteen on lower Fifth Avenue.
Falk was acutely conscious of religious discrimination in many university departments. While she did not publicly identify herself as a Jew, she noted that the history faculty was unusual because it hired professors of “all faiths.” This inclusiveness did not extend to women, however. Both the field and the department were, in her words, “a man’s world.” Discrimination because of her gender was reflected in Falk’s teaching load and salary. She taught day and evening classes with no increase in pay between 1931 and 1943, when she was recruited for the war effort by the American Red Cross. She waited fourteen years for a promotion from instructor to assistant professor, which finally came in 1947, when she returned from Europe. She was promoted to associate professor in 1955. Minna Falk was loyal to the department and devoted to her students, who valued her intelligence, scholarship, and sense of humor.
Claster, Jill. Telephone interview with author. New York University, July 1996; Falk, Minna Regina. Archives. History Department, New York University, and The History of Germany: From the Reformation to the Present Day (1957); Obituary. NYTimes, May 5, 1983.