Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate women who broke the glass ceiling during their lifetimes and made a path for the women followed them. We—the current and next generation of female and male leaders–thank them for their persistence and courage, and most importantly, for empowering younger generations that that women can do it!
In American political history, there are many women who deserve recognition for their achievements. We selected eight who are inspiring leaders for young women (and men) across the globe. Read, enjoy and be inspired by their stories!
In 1920 Lucile Atcherson became the first woman to apply to be tested to join what became the U.S. Foreign Service. Although she passed, and in 1922 President Warren G. Harding nominated her as the first woman in what became the U.S. Foreign Service, the Senate did not approve her appointment because its members did not think it was appropriate for a young single woman to travel overseas as a diplomat.
She worked in the Department of State then, but after women’s and political groups supported her with letters and telegrams, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations recommended her appointment overseas and the Senate approved it in 1923. Lucile thus became a U.S. diplomat based in Bern, Switzerland, officially titled “third secretary of the legation” in Bern.
Alaska Packard Davidson was an American law enforcement officer who is best known for being the first female special agent in the FBI.
On October 11, 1922, at age 54, Davidson was hired by director William J. Burns to work at the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the FBI) as a special investigator; she was the first female special agent. Trained in New York City, she was later assigned to the Washington, D.C. field office
The Bureau was interested in hiring female agents to work on cases related to the Mann Act, which aimed to combat interstate sex trafficking. During her work at the Washington field office, she was also involved in a case against another agent who was selling classified Department of Justice information to criminals.
Frances E. Willis was the third woman to enter the U.S. Foreign Service in 1927 and the first woman to make a career of the U.S. Foreign Service.
Willis held posts starting in Chile in 1928, then Sweden, Belgium and Spain during WW II, the U.S. State Department, England, Finland, Switzerland, Norway and Sri Lanka. She was appointed ambassador to the last three posts. During her Foreign Service career she became the first woman designated chargé d’affaires, the first woman appointed deputy chief of mission, the first female Foreign Service officer (FSO) appointed ambassador, the first woman to serve as ambassador to three posts, the first woman appointed Career Minister in 1955 and the first woman appointed Career Ambassador in 1962 Career Ambassador.
Ruth Baird Bryan Leavitt Owen Rohde, also known as Ruth Bryan Owen, was a politician and the first woman appointed as a United States ambassador. The daughter of attorney William Jennings Bryan and Mary E. Baird, she was a Democrat, who in 1929 was elected as Florida’s (and the South’s) first woman U.S. Representative. Representative Owen was also the first woman to earn a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In 1933, she became the first woman to be appointed as a U.S. ambassador, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected her as Ambassador to Denmark and Iceland.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the presidency in 1933 he named Frances Perkins Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve in a cabinet position. After the initial controversy of her appointment died away she settled into a 12-year term. She pushed for a minimum wage and maximum workweek, a limit on employment of children under 16, creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and unemployment compensation—all of which were enacted.
The first female Diplomatic Security Special Agent, Patti Morton was recruited in 1972 to join the Office of Security, predecessor to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) in the Washington Field Office as a Special Agent. She later served at Embassy Saigon where she wrote the post’s evacuation plan that was used during the fall of Saigon. Being the first female special agent, she was very aware of the legacy she would leave for women. “When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow.”
Ambassador Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick was the first female U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. After serving as Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy adviser in his 1980 presidential election campaign and later in his Cabinet, Kirkpatrick was nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and became the first woman to hold this position.
She is famous for her “Kirkpatrick Doctrine,” which advocated U.S. support of anticommunist governments around the world, including authoritarian dictatorships, if they went along with Washington’s aims—believing they could be led into democracy by example. She wrote, “Traditional authoritarian governments are less repressive than revolutionary autocracies.”
When Dr. Madeline Albright was sworn in as the 64th secretary of state in 1997, she became the first woman to ever hold that position.
During her tenure, Albright advocated for increased human rights and democracy throughout the world and fought to halt the spread of nuclear weapons from former Soviet countries to rogue nations such as North Korea. A champion of NATO, Albright also sought to expand the organization’s membership and in 1999 pushed for its direct military intervention during the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. In October 2000, Albright made history again when she became the first American secretary of state to travel to North Korea. Dr. Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Obama on May 29, 2012.