Published: March 11, 2022

An image of Joyce Lebra

In 1958, CU Boulder professor Joyce Lebra became the first American woman to receive a doctoral degree in Japanese history. Lebra — who grew up in Hawaii and witnessed the exploitation of Indigenous Hawaiian and Asian immigrant populations — received her degree from the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Four years later, she began teaching Japanese and Indian history at CU. According to the College of Arts and Sciences, she was the first and sole female history professor for 15 of her 29 years at CU.

Last spring, the Consul-General of Japan in Denver recognized Lebra for her work, and she received the Order of the Rising Sun medal and ribbon on Aug. 27. According to The Japan Times, Lebra wore the medal every day until her death a few weeks later on Oct.10, 2021, at the age of 95. 

Reflecting on the achievement, Lebra told The Denver Post in April 2021: “It’s such an amazing way to end my career and my life.”

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Photo by Carnegie Library for Local History/Museum of Boulder Collection