On Nov. 23, Donald Trump announced the addition of two women to his Cabinet: Nikki Haley and Betsy DeVos as envoy to the United Nations and Secretary of Education, respectively. In light of their appointments, as well as the fact that Trump should have more women in his Cabinet, it's worth noting the fact that women have historically played prominent and ground-breaking roles as Cabinet secretaries throughout history.
The U.S. Cabinet has only had 30 female secretaries throughout history, and women have held a total of 54 cabinet positions overall, including secretary positions. The first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Cabinet was Francis Perkins in 1933. Perkins was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as Secretary of Labor for 12 years. The Secretary of Labor position has interestingly proven to be the most popular for the appointment of female Cabinet secretaries. Throughout history, there have been seven women secretaries of Labor and five women secretaries of Health and Human Services. The Departments of State and Commerce have had three female secretaries each, and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Justice, and Education, have had two.
Interestingly, no woman has ever served as Secretary of the Treasury, Defense, or Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, no administration throughout the course of U.S. history has ever had more than four women serving as Cabinet secretaries at the same time, and this has occurred only during the most recent presidencies—those of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
Female Cabinet secretaries have accomplished a wide array of policy successes throughout history. Perkins, the first ever female Cabinet secretary, was instrumental in implementing Roosevelt's New Deal and Social Security programs. She also oversaw the advent of many labor protection laws, including the first national minimum wage laws and the establishment of the 40-hour work week. Furthermore, the second-ever female Cabinet Secretary, Oveta Culp Hobby, the Secretary of the now-defunct Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, was instrumental in approving the use of one of the first-ever polio vaccines. While one of the laboratories which used the vaccine ended up making a very significant error, the decision to move forward with vaccine approval was still life-changing for many Americans and changed the course of public health in the United States for the better.
More recent female Cabinet secretaries have also had significant accomplishments. Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, was largely responsible for modernizing and expanding NATO and helping oversee the NATO-directed campaign to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a strong champion of his administration's development plan, PEPFAR, which aims to significantly diminish AIDS rates in Africa. And, of course, as Secretary of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton was instrumental in helping make women and girls a significant focus of U.S. foreign policy.
These constitute just some of the many accomplishments that women in the U.S. Cabinet have helped oversee throughout history. As President-elect Trump continues to select his Cabinet, let's hope that more women will join Haley and DeVos as Cabinet secretaries and help add diversity and innovative ideas to his administration.