“Firsts” in Women’s Appointments History
The first woman to be appointed to a cabinet position was FrancesPerkins, who served as Secretary of Labor under Presidents Rooseveltand Truman. She held the position for 12 years. Under her direction minimumwage standards and legislation to improve working conditions were writteninto law.
Oveta Culp Hobby served as the first woman appointed to Secretaryof Health, Education and Welfare from 1953 to 1955 under President Eisenhower.
The first black woman presidential appointee was Mary McLeod Bethune,who founded the National Council of Negro Women. President Roosevelt appointedher head of the Office of Minority Affairs in 1935.
The first woman of color to be appointed to a cabinet-level position wasPatricia Harris, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Developmentand Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter.
In 1997, under President Clinton’s administration, Aida Alvarez becamethe first Hispanic woman to hold a cabinet-level position as Administratorof the Small Business Administration, while Madeleine K. Albrightbecame the first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking womanin the U.S. government. Furthermore, in 1993, Clinton named Janet RenoAttorney General.
Women Appointees to Senate-Confirmed Positions
Total No. of Appointees
Total No. of Women
Only 22 women have held cabinet or cabinet-level positions in the historyof the United States. The following executive departments have never beenheaded by a woman: Treasury, Defense,Interior, Agriculture, Energy,and Veterans Affairs. 1
President Richard Nixon: 1969-1974
Cabinet Positions: 12 (1969-1973), 11 (1973-1974)
Total Number of Cabinet Appointments: 31
Number of Women Appointed: 0
President Gerald Ford: 1974-1977
Cabinet Positions: 11
Total Number of Cabinet Appointments: 12
Number of Women Appointed: 1
- Carla Hills: 1975-1977, Housing and Urban Development
Prior to her appointment as Secretary of HUD, Hills was the highest-ranking woman in the Justice Department as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division. During her tenure at HUD, Hills supported programs that emphasized the rehabilitation of urban areas.
President Jimmy Carter: 1977-1981
Cabinet Positions: 11 (1977-1978), 12 (1978), 13 (1979-1981)
Total Number of Cabinet Appointments: 21
Number of Women Appointed: 3 (filled 4 positions in total)
- Juanita Kreps: 1977-1979, Commerce
Kreps, who received her doctorate in economics from Duke University, was the author of Sex in the Market Place: American Women at Work in 1971. She served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange before becoming the first woman and the first economist to serve as Secretary of Commerce. Kreps is an expert on labor demographics with special emphasis on working women and the aged. She is currently a tenured professor at Duke University.
- Patricia Harris: 1977-1979, Housing and Urban Development; 1979-1980, Health, Education, and Welfare; 1980-1981, Health and Human Services
Harris previously served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, the Co-Chairman of the National Women’s Commission on Civil Rights, and the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg. She was the first African American woman to attain a cabinet-level appointment. After an unsuccessful candidacy for the mayor of the District of Columbia in 1982, she returned to the George Washington National Law Center as a full-time law professor until her death in 1985.
- Shirley M. Hufstedler: 1979-1981, Education
Hufstedler was the second woman in history to achieve the rank of Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She was appointed to Carter’s cabinet as the first-ever Secretary of the Department of Education when it became an independent department. After her service she became a partner in a private law firm in Los Angeles.
President Ronald Reagan: 1981-1989
Cabinet Positions: 13
Total Number of Cabinet Appointments: 33
Number of Women Appointed: 3 2
- Elizabeth H. Dole: 1983-1987, Transportation
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Dole served as a White House Aide in the Johnson and Nixon administrations. During her tenure as Secretary of Transportation in two Reagan administrations, she managed an Air Traffic Controllers’ strike and a Truckers’ strike. She resigned the post in 1987 to campaign with her husband, U.S. Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), during his bid for the presidency.
- Margaret M. Heckler: 1983-1985, Health & Human Services
Heckler represented the tenth District of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. She was a founder of the Congressional Women’s Caucus in 1978. While heading Health & Human Services, Heckler worked to improve the childcare support system and the child care tax credit system. She resigned in 1985 and was named U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. She is currently serving on various corporate boards and practicing law at a private firm.
- Ann D. McLaughlin: 1987-1989, Labor
McLaughlin’s previous positions included service as the Director of the Office of Public Information at the Environmental Protection Agency and as Undersecretary of the Interior. She supported Reagan’s policies toward unions and unionism, and opposed an increase in the minimum wage and organized labor’s demand for plant closing notification.
- Elizabeth Dole: 1989-1991, Labor
Dole received this second appointment to a cabinet position in 1989. She left the Department of Labor in 1991 to become President of the American Red Cross.
- Barbara H. Franklin: 1992, Commerce
One of the first women to graduate from Harvard Business School, Franklin has served the last four U.S. Presidents. In 1971 she directed the first White House program to recruit women for high-level government positions. Prior to entering the Bush cabinet, Franklin was President and CEO of a consulting firm and served in 1989 as Alternate Representative and Public Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.
- Lynn Martin: 1991-1992, Labor
Martin served in the 97th through 101st Congresses as a representative from Illinois. In 1984 and 1986 she was elected Vice Chair of the Republican Conference in the House, becoming the first woman to hold a leadership position in the party’s congressional hierarchy. After her challenge to U.S. Senator Paul Simon in 1990, President Bush named her head of the Department of Labor.
President Bill Clinton: 1993-2000
Cabinet Positions: 14
Total Number of Cabinet Appointments:
Number of Women Appointed: 11 5
- Madeleine Albright: 1993-1997, UN Ambassador,6 1997-Present, Secretary of State
Unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Albright is the first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States. Prior to her appointment, Albright served as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations and as a member of President Clinton’s cabinet and National Security Council. Albright also served as the former President of the Center for National Policy and as a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
- Hazel O’Leary: 1993-1997, Secretary of Energy
O’Leary served as the Executive Vice President of Northern States Power in Minneapolis, Minnesota prior to her appointment. O’Leary was also a Senior Energy Policy Advisor in the Carter and Ford administrations.
- Alice M. Rivlin: 1993-1996, Director, Office of Management and Budget
Prior to her appointment as Director, Rivlin was the Deputy Director of the OMB since 1993. She was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office. She served as a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. Rivlin was the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
- Laura D’Andrea Tyson: 1995-1997, Chair, National Economic Council 7
Formerly the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. Tyson was a professor of economics and business administration and Director of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Carol M. Browner: 1993-Present, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency 8
Browner was the Secretary of the Florida State Department of Environmental Regulation and previously served as Legislative Director for then-U.S. Senator Al Gore.
- Janet Reno: 1993-Present, Attorney General
As the first woman Attorney General of the United States, Reno heads the Justice Department. Prior to her appointment, Reno, a Harvard Law School graduate, was the State Attorney General for Dade County, Florida. Reno previously was an associate and partner in several law firms, worked for the state prosecutor’s office, and was a staff director to the Florida House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
- Donna E. Shalala: 1993-Present, Health and Human Services
Shalala is the longest serving Secretary of Health and Human Services in U.S. history. Prior to this appointment, Shalala was Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a professor of political science. She also served as Assistant Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Carter Administration. Before joining the Clinton Administration, Shalala served for more than a decade on the Board of the Children’s Defense Fund, succeeding Hillary Clinton as Chair in 1992.
- Aida Alvarez: 1997-Present, Administrator, Small Business Administration 9
Alvarez is the first Hispanic woman and the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to hold a position in a president’s cabinet. Prior to her appointment as administrator, Alvarez directed the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. Before her service in Washington, DC, she worked as a Wall Street investment banker, television journalist and president of the largest municipal health care system–the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
- Carlene Barshefsky: 1997-Present, U.S. Trade Representative 10
Until she was nominated as the U.S. Trade Representative, Barshefsky served as Acting U.S. Trade Representative since April 1996, and was the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative from 1993-1996. Before coming to government service, she was a partner in a Washington, DC law firm specializing in international trade law and policy.
- Alexis Herman: 1997-Present, Secretary of Labor
Prior to her appointment to the Department of Labor, Herman served as assistant to President Clinton and Director of the White House Public Liaison Office. In the Carter administration, she worked as the director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. Before joining the Clinton White House, Herman was founder and President of A.M. Herman & Associates, where she advised state and local governments.
1 Women also have never served on the executivelevel in the position of Director of the Office of National Drug ControlPolicy.
2 Not including Jeane Kirkpatrick who servedas Ambassador to the United Nations. Reagan elevated the position of Ambassadorto the United Nations to cabinet level during his administration. Kirkpatricktaught political science at Georgetown University before joining the Reaganadministration. She wrote one of the earliest books about women and politics,Political Woman. Kirkpatrick was a Democrat when Reagan appointed her andlater switched parties.
3 Not including three appointees who continuedfrom the previous administration.
4 Not including U.S. Trade RepresentativeCarla Hills. U.S. Trade Representative is considered an executive level oneposition. Hills served in the Ford cabinet as Secretary of HUD. Before joiningthe Bush administration, she was co-managing partner of the Washington, D.C.office of the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges and chaired the boardof the Urban Institute. As U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Hills isthe nation’s chief trade negotiator and President Bush’s principal advisoron international trade policy.
5 Madeleine Albright was appointed twice totwo different positions.
6 The position of U.N. Ambassador was consideredcabinet-level during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations.
7 The position of Chair of the National EconomicCouncil is a cabinet-level position in the Clinton administration.
8 The position of Administrator of theEnvironmental Protection Agency is a cabinet-level position in the Clintonadministration.
9 The position of Administrator of the SmallBusiness Administration is a cabinet-level position in the Clintonadministration.
10 The position of U.S. Trade Representativeis considered cabinet-level under the Clinton administration.