July 19

July 19, 1979 – Patricia Roberts Harris Becomes U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare

Patricia R. Harris official portrait

Patricia R. Harris

Patricia Roberts Harris was appointed to her second cabinet post as U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare on July 19, 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Harris had previously served in the Carter Administration as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 1977 to 1979.  She was the first African American woman to become a Cabinet Member, U.S. Ambassador and lead a law school.  Harris was born on May 31, 1924 in Mattoon, Illinois. She graduated summa cum laude from Howard University.  While a student at Howard, Harris participated in one of the first restaurant sit-ins.  She received her law degree from George Washington University National Law Center where she was ranked out of a class of 94 students number one.   Harris became the first national executive director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1953 and served in this position until 1959.  She received an appointment by President John F. Kennedy to co-chair the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights in 1963.  President Lyndon Johnson appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1965.  She served as dean of Howard University Law School from 1969 to 1972.  In 1982 Harris accepted a position of professor at George Washington University Law School.   She worked at George Washington University Law School until she succumbed to breast cancer on March 23, 1985.

NIH Director Fredrickson and DHHS Secretary Roberts. 1980

DHHS Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris is introduced by NIH Director Dr. Donald S. Fredrickson. Lister Hill Auditorium, August 8, 1980.