Juanita Kreps – Secretary of Commerce

        If she had a second chance, Juanita Kreps said, “I would be more flamboyant. I am plagued by this constant reference to the fact that I’m soft-spoken and gentle and don’t make waves.” 

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.52.35 PM         Juanita Kreps is more than a First Woman To. She is a beacon for the power of education as a transformative force, first in her own life and then in the lives of others. Born in poverty in Appalachia, raised in Harlan County, Kentucky, and unable to afford higher education, Juanita Kreps attended Berea College. Berea, to this day, offers free tuition to students who are willing to work on campus in exchange for their education. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Economics.

After following her husband around the country, she settled at Duke University attaining the rank of full professor. She was the first woman to hold the prestigious James B. Duke Chair in Economics. In her academic work she examined labor demographics, in particular that of women and older workers. She emphasized in her work that women, although entering the workforce in greater numbers, were assigned to lower paying jobs. In  1971 she wrote in Sex in the Marketplace: American Women at Work that women “continue to staff the clerical jobs, the elementary classrooms, and the sales rooms; they are almost never vice-presidents or high school principals or hospital administrators.”

In addition to academic work, she was active in the business world. Dr. Kreps was the first woman to serve as a director of the New York Stock Exchange and she was a director on the board of ten of the country’s major corporations, among them J.C. Penney, R.J. Reynolds, Citicorp and AT&T.

By the time President Carter appointed Dr. Kreps as the first woman to serve as Secretary of Commerce, she was already respected by the business community. She worked to promote international trade and negotiated a historic trade agreement with China in 1979. She promoted the interests of business and worked to promote President Carter’s image among business leaders. At the same time, she encouraged businesses to be socially responsible, protecting the environment and practicing affirmative action. She even proposed that businesses be audited to measure how well they acted in a socially responsible manner and contributed to the common good. During the 1970’s she supported ideas that seemed revolutionary at the time. She encouraged women to become entrepreneurs and companies to incorporate flextime policies. She also supported maternity leave and paternity leave, areas where the United States continues to lag behind other developed countries.

Prior to serving as Secretary of Commerce, Dr. Kreps had already attained several firsts, but she had also achieved a “last.” She was the last Dean of the Woman’s College. By working to merge programs between Duke University’s programs for men and the separate programs for women at the Woman’s College, she helped to transform education for all women. After her tenure, there was no need for another Dean of the Woman’s College, as it no longer existed and women were fully incorporated into the University.


Two of her books:  Sex in the Marketplace: American Women at Work and Sex, Age, and Work: The Changing Composition of the Labor Force (co-written with Robert Clark)

An Obituary:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/07/AR2010070704961.html

Biography at Berea College:  http://bereapedia.wikispaces.com/Juanita+M.+Kreps


        Today some of the policies Juanita Kreps proposed have been established in some companies and today more women than men graduate from college. Would Dr. Kreps believe women had made enough progress?


2 thoughts on “Juanita Kreps – Secretary of Commerce

  1. Impressive — the writings of Dr. Kreps came a little too late for my aunt Elizabeth Lindsey, who struggled throughout her career with being eminently qualified for advancement in the State of Michigan library system, but consistently passed over in favor of men who were brought in without any idea of what was going on. Therefore, I truly understand why “Sex in the Marketplace” was a groundbreaking work.

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