U.S. Army General
Pioneering female firefighter Brenda Berkman was born in 1951 and grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She earned her B.A. from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, an M.A. in history at Indiana University, a J.D. from New York University Law School, and an M.S. in fire protection management from City University of New York. Berkman filed the lawsuit that resulted in the first women being hired by the New York City Fire Department in 1982. In 1977 the FDNY used a physical test that all the women applying to be firefighters failed, including Berkman; she sued on the grounds of gender discrimination and won, and a new test was created in which standards were changed so the test was job-related. Berkman and 40 other women passed the new job-related test. She joined the FDNY in 1982. The struggle of women to join the FDNY, and Berkman's part in it, was featured in a 2006 PBS documentary called Taking The Heat. Berkman was the founder of the United Women Firefighters, an organization for women in the FDNY, and was its president from 1982 until 1986. Her awards include: the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women, a Revson Fellowship on the Future of the City of New York, from Columbia University, the Distinguished Alumni Award from St. Olaf College, and the Women of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women. Berkman responded to the World Trade Center attacks, and in 2012 a self-portrait she created was exhibited at the 9/11 Decade Exhibit at the Westbeth Sculpture Gallery Annex. Her experience was also featured in the book Women at Ground Zero: stories of courage and compassion. She retired in 2006 at the rank of Captain. She was the first openly gay person to be a professional firefighter and a White House Fellow.
"It was time for me to take a stand."