Virtual Museum of Public Service

Women in the Public Service

"And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us - no matter what our age or background or walk of life - each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation." 
 
- Michelle Obama
 
Women have been serving in public service roles since before the American Revolution, but their work has gone largely unrecognized. The women featured in this gallery are renowned because their drive pushed them forward in service, despite systemic barriers, discriminatory policies, and other obstacles. Many of them led the way, emerging as leaders and innovators in the public service as early as the 18th century. Among them is Clara Barton, a woman known as a pioneering nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. This important nongovernmental organization provides assistance to the public through disaster relief, supporting military families, providing health and safety training and education, and organizing the receipt of blood donations. Less well known is the fact that she was the first female federal clerk to receive the same remuneration as male clerks.
 
Other women celebrated here are Mary Katherine Goddard, the first female Postmaster (1775), Fanny Jackson Coppin, the first African American Principal (1869), Jeanette Rankin (1916) the first woman to be elected to the United States Congress, and Mercedes O. Cubria, the first Cuban born female to serve in the United States Army. Many other women in the public service are acknowledged here, demonstrating the depth and breadth of women’s commitment to serve the public good. They include elected and appointed officials as cabinet members, state governors, mayors, and Supreme Court justices.

Women in the Public Service