The death of Janet Reno leads me to think about first females in the Presidential Cabinet and other high government positions in Washington, DC. As we all know, although we have now had a woman nominated as a Presidential candidate of a major party, the actual election of a woman as President of the United States still lies in the future. Let’s discover some of the first women in Washington. Match the woman with her accomplishment:
____ 1. The first woman to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, her reputation was established during the years she spent as an attorney and country prosecutor in Florida.
____ 2. The first female in the Presidential Cabinet who served as Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
____ 3. The first African-American woman in the Cabinet; the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.
____ 4. When named the first female Secretary of Commerce in 1976, she disagreed with President Carter’s assertion that it hard to find qualified women for the job.
____ 5. The first woman and first person of Latin descent to be named U.S. Surgeon General.
A. Frances Perkins
B. Juanita Kreps
C. Janet Reno
D. Patricia Roberts Harris
E. Antonia Novello
The first female to serve in the Presidential Cabinet, Frances Perkins was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1833-1945. After graduating with a degree in chemistry and physics, and unable to find a job in social work, Perkins moved to Chicago and became very active at Hull House. There, her interactions with the poor and unemployed led her to find her life’s calling. After receiving her master’s degree in social work at Columbia University (in New York City), Perkins stayed in New York and saw the devastation and death caused by poor labor conditions at the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. A political appointee in New York State while FDR was governor, she was appointed to his Cabinet where she oversaw the establishment of the Social Security Administration. Perkins, who has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, said “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.”
The first female Secretary of Commerce, Juanita Kreps grew up in a poor coal-mining community in Kentucky. A pioneer for women, Kreps broke many gender barriers and focused her research as a professor at Duke University on the labor demographics of women and older people. The first female director of the New York Stock Exchange, Kreps led trade missions and led the negotiations that opened trade with China as Secretary of Commerce. When she was named Secretary of Commerce in 1976, she openly disagreed with President Jimmy Carter when he indicated that it had been hard to find a qualified woman to fill the position. Kreps received her undergraduate degree from Brea College and both graduate degrees from Duke University.
The first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno was named by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Her reputation was established during the years she spent as an attorney and country prosecutor in Florida. A graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School, Reno launched programs as Attorney General to keep non-violent drug offenders out of jail and to ensure that the rights of criminal defendants were honored. Reno launched an anti-trust suit against Microsoft during her 8-year tenure. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Patricia Roberts Harris was a woman who broke many barriers. She was not only the first African-American woman to serve in the Cabinet, she was also the first to serve as a U.S. Ambassador and the first to lead a law school. After Harris graduated from George Washington University Law School first in her class, she was a law professor and lecturer, and in 1965, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. She then led the Law School at Howard University before practicing law privately. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter selected her as the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She later became Secretary of what later was called the Department of Health and Human Services. Harris has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. During a confirmation hearing when asked if she could relate to the clientele of the Department she would be heading, she said “Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining-car worker . . . If my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts can wind up as being part of the system.”
When she was named U.S. Surgeon General, Antonia Novello, who was born in Puerto Rico, became both the first woman and the first person of Latin descent to be named to the Presidential Cabinet. A former deputy director of the National Institutes of Health, Novello was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as U.S. Surgeon General in 1993. During her years in that position, she focused on AIDS awareness and prevention, women and children’s health, and the prevention of underage smoking. She later worked for New York State and for UNICEF. A nephrologist, Novello has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These first women in Washington are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.
(Answers 1-C, 2-A, 3-D, 4-B, 5-E)