70th Anniversary Celebration of Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Dr. Jacqueline McBride

Since 1983, I have conducted research on Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  Their ability to shatter glass ceilings is intriguing and encourages others into Dr Jacqueline McBride “unchartered waters”, the field of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (formerly Civil Defense).  In 1984, I attended a Conference for Women in Emergency and Fire Service Management, also titled as the “first Women’s Conference on Emergency Management”.  Hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one hundred (100) women, from the United States, gathered to “further the already significant involvement of women in all areas of emergency management, fire service, law enforcement and government, according to FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffrida.  The participants are representative of women across the nation in state and local disaster related management…”

Over the years I have envisioned co-coordinating and participating in another conference for women in emergency management. After participating on a panel discussion, “Diversity in Emergency Management” during the International Association of Emergency Managers’ 2009 annual conference, I reflected upon the 1984 White House Conference on Women in Emergency Management.  In February 2010, I wrote to the White House Council on Women and Girls (WHCWG) to recommend that they convene a meeting with key women leaders in homeland security and emergency management.  The purpose of the meeting is to discuss best practices for inclusion of women and an initiative to honor the contributions of women in homeland security and emergency management.

WHCWG requested that I provide a list of women’s organizations in homeland security and emergency management, or key women leaders in the USA, who would like to share a discussion on best practices, mentoring and internship programs, and ways to encourage young women to select homeland security and emergency management as a field of study and profession.  My research revealed that there were only three women’s organizations:  EMPOWER, the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services (iWomen), and Women in Homeland Security.

I thought it would be great to establish a “network” of women’s organizations that would also include women leaders in our local, state, tribal, and federal governments; critical infrastructure facilities; voluntary, faith, and community-based organizations; private and nonprofit sectors; academia; and professional associations.  Many of whom are a “first” in our chosen profession, making this achievement an electrifying experience and encouragement for young women.

To that end, the International Network of Women in Emergency Management (inWEM ) was created and many women and men have shared their energies and talents to form a powerful, international network of women and men.  Collectively, they effect positive change in elevating the status of women and young girls in the field of homeland security and emergency management, and in the lives of those affected by emergencies; as well as a passion to honor our “trailblazers”.

Over the past year, inWEM established, developed and nurtured partnerships with over 300 male, female and youth leaders.  Several months ago, I re-visited my burning desire to research the history of women in civil defense, homeland security, and emergency management.  There is a saying “there is nothing new under the sun”.  Interestingly, my research uncovered a few awesome facts that relates to an historical perspective of our “network” – inWEM.

Historical  Perspective of Women in Emergency Management

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ask Florence Kerr, Assistant Administrator of the Work Projects Administration and Director of the Women’s and Professional Projects, to develop a plan that would use women volunteers in the war mission. Civil Defense Medical Corps

First Lady Roosevelt and Ms. Kerr produced a document entitled “American Social Defense Organization”.  This document helped structure the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), which President Roosevelt established by Executive Order in May, 1941.  OCD’s mission was to coordinate volunteers in the protection of their homes and neighborhoods against an invasion.

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City was appointed Director of OCD in May 1941 and in September 1941, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Director; the “first woman in Homeland Security/Emergency Management” (formerly Civil Defense).

On October 31, 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt sent a letter to Dorothy McAllister, Director of the Women’s Division of the Democratic National Committee and many women across the country encouraging them to attend an upcoming organizational meeting of the OCD.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt “suggested” that the President appoint Crystal Bird Fauset as an assistant director and race relations director of the Office of Civil Defense, becoming part of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet.”   She promoted civil defense planning in black communities, recruited blacks for the military and monitored and dealt with complaints about race discrimination. Eleanor Roosevelt

In December 1950, President Truman issued Executive Order 10186, which created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), within Office for Emergency Management, Executive Office of the President.  Millard F. Caldwell, Jr., former Governor of Florida, was appointed as Federal Civil Defense Administrator, who “…called into a special meeting his Civil Defense Advisory Council, composed of prominent national leaders, including Dr. Lillian M. Gilbreth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Silliman Evans, and three governors, Frank Lausche of Ohio, Frederick G. Payne, of Main, and Luther W. Youngdahl, of Minnesota.”  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. VII, September, 1951, No. 9 3

Due to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the first Women’s Network in Civil Defense emerges because women “pushed” the issue for women’s role in the Korean War.  “Throughout the summer and fall of 1950, letters and telegrams streamed into the offices of National Security Resources Board (NSRB) and President Truman, claiming that women’s wartime service had earned them the right to participate in the current emergency.  As one woman wrote:  “American women not only have won a place shoulder to shoulder with their men in supporting the big affairs of their country; they also have proved their ability to hold it.”  (McEnaney, 2000, pp 90-91)

Participating in this query was the largest national women’s organizations:  General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), the National Association of Business and Professional Women (BPW), the American Association of University Women (AAUW).  Thus a network of these women’s groups and other neighborhood women’s groups, Republican and Democrat women’s organizations, ladies auxiliary of veterans groups, wives, and mothers coalesced around civil defense and homeland security issues.  The network’s leadership was homogenous: members of GFWC (Dorothy Houghton), BPW, and the AAUW; and urban, professional, and influential white women.  After Mary Church Terrell’s appeal for membership in the AAUW, African American Women’s clubs became an integral part of the network, to include the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (NCNW); the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. (NACWC); and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. (NANBPWC)

In August 1950, Martha Dickie Sharp was appointed by National Security Resources Board (NSRB) to coordinate women’s participation in the overall civilian mobilization in labor and civil defense.  In October 1950, the first national “Women and Civil Defense” conference, was held in Washington, D.C.  Ms. Sharp called upon sixty-one women who represented major national women’s organizations, labor organizations, political parties and women’s’ branches of the armed forces.   “These discussions are significant because they framed the policy discourse on women’s involvement in civil defense for the rest of the decade”. (McEnaney, 2000, pp 97)

Fast forward to 2011, seventy (70) years later….”Our History is Our Strength”.  We have come full circle and pledge to continue the legacy of and honor our pioneer homeland security/emergency managers: former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Kerr, Mary Church Terrell, Dorothy Houghton, Crystal Bird Fauset; Martha Dickie Sharp, Dorothy Ferebee, Dorothy McAllister; and Mary McLeod Bethune .

We salute the founding women’s organizations:  GFWC, BPW; the AAUW; NANBPWC; NCNW; and NACWC.

inWEM’s  Charter members include…

Elizabeth Armstrong (Ex-Officio) Heather Blanchard Yvette Barnett Suzanne Blake
Susan Diehl- Brenits Kate Leese Burgers Carole L. Cameron Susan Chittooran
Lacey Croco Carol Cwiak Elizabeth Davis Susan Diehl
Carol Dunn Dr. Elaine Enarson Carmelita Pope-Freeman Fay Glass
Kay C. Goss Barb Graff Anne Grunewald Gillian Gutierrez
Claudette N. Walter-Hall Foudiya Henri Kathleen Henning Noël Francine Kepler
DSG Katherine Klemp Terry Kuhr Yolanda Lee Donna L. Lepik
Lynda Lowe John Laine Pamela L’Heureux E. Marcelle Penn Mathis
Jacqueline McBride Kathleen McKenna, Associate Siri-Elizabeth McLean Sarah K. Miller
Avagene Moore Nora O’Brien Lisa Orloff Blythe Joy Patenaude
Elaine Pittman Grace Protos Doone Robertson Maureen Rush
Sharelene Salazar Diana Rothe-Smith Sarah Spieth MaryAnn E. Tierney
Angeles Thompson Vanessa Vaughn M. Carmela Welte Lynda Zambrano

inWEM’s Charter Organizations and Strategic Partners include:

CrisisCommons; Dewberry,  LLC; EAD & Associates, LLC; Emergency Information Infrastructure Partnership (EIIP);  EMPOWER,  ERepublic; Federal Emergency Management Agency;  Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance;  Anne Grunewald, Consulting;  International Association of Emergency Managers; iPREP; James Lee Witt Associates;  KGHENNING & ASSOCIATES LLC;  Love, Peace and Prosperity International, Inc.;  National Congress of American Indians;  National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster;    Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council; Strategic Emergency Group, LLC; Urban Preparedness, Inc.;  U.S. Department of Justice;   U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau; and World Cares Center, Inc.


  • Black Past.  Source Retrieved December 19, 2010:  http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/fauset-crystal-bird-1894-1965
  • Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. VII, September, 1951, No. 9   Source Retrieved December 18, 2010
  • McEnaney, Laura Civil Defense Begins At Home, Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2000
  • Potter, Joan and Claytor, Constance.  African-American First, Elizabethtown, NY:   Pinto Press, 1994.
  • Smith, Jessie Carney, Editor, Notable Black Women in America, Book II, Detroit, MI:  Gale Research Inc., 1996.

Historical Links:

Dwight D. Eisenhower speech to the National Women’s Advisory Committee on Civil Defense