Annette Gordon-Reed '81 Wins the Pulitzer Prize

Gordon-Reed is a legal scholar and historian who graduated with high distinction from Dartmouth in 1981.

The following is an excerpt from "The 25 Most Influential Alumni", featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Profile written by James Zug ’91.

Written by pecial sestercentennial issue  sestercentennial issuefrom a feature on Gordon-Reed published in the It was one of the biggest controversies in American history: Did Thomas Jefferson father the seven children of  his slave, Sally Hemings? For two centuries the debate raged. Was it true? Impossible? Almost every Jefferson biographer dismissed the story. 

Annette Gordon-Reed proved it. She had long pondered Jefferson and Hemings. As a senior at Dartmouth she wanted to write her history thesis on the subject, but her professor nixed the idea. In 1997, while a professor at New York Law School, she wrote Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy outlining the evidence.

A year later DNA tests vindicated her. They showed that Jefferson almost certainly fathered Hemings’ children. In 2008 Gordon-Reed delved further into their family in The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. This biography of Sally and her relatives was a magisterial feat. It blew up long-standing beliefs about slavery. It changed the way Monticello approached its past, and it forever altered how Americans see the iconic Jefferson.

Hemingses of Monticello became one of the most honored books in publishing history. It won 16 awards. It was only the third book to receive the National Book Award for history and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Gordon-Reed became the first black writer to win the Pulitzer for history. Within two years of its publication, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal. The MacArthur Foundation gave her its so-called genius award fellowship, and William & Mary (Jefferson’s alma mater) awarded her an honorary degree. 

Read more from Dartmouth Alumni Magazine

WATCH: On March 9, 2018, 500 alumni and friends gathered at the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. Gordon-Reed joined Rembert Browne ’09 and Professor Steve Swayne on a panel that discussed slavery, sports, music, and the African American political experience.​​