Dr. Elinor Ostrom, a former Indiana University professor who in 2009 became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in economics, died June 12 at a hospital in Bloomington, Indiana. She was 78 and had cancer.
Dr. Ostrom, who had never formally trained as an economist, taught and worked at the Indiana University for more than 40 years. When she was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize, many of her colleagues in the field were astonished, because the field had long been dominated by men.
The globe-trotting professor also made major waves through her anthropological fieldwork which included traveling across the Los Angeles water basin and the American Midwest, through Swiss pastures and into the villages of Nepal to gather evidence for a theory that few of her contemporaries believed.
Her theory postulated that individuals and communities could sustain their own collective resources (water supplies, fisheries, forests, etc.) without the presence of government regulation or private industry.
“What we have ignored,” she said after her Nobel Prize was announced, “is what citizens can do . . . as opposed to just having someone in Washington or at a far, far distance make a rule.” Dr. Ostrom collected her findings in publications including the book Governing the Commons (1990).
The National Women’s History Museums honors Dr. Elinor Ostrom for her remarkable achievements and her contributions to the field of economics.