Sheila Widnall – Secretary of the Air Force

Throughout history military endeavors were the purview of men, with a few exceptions. Although there were women warriors, often disguised as men, these were the exception. Women warriors were either portrayed as myths, like the Amazon women, or as delusional, like Joan of Arc who heard voices. 

SHEILA WIDNALL FOR DRAFT BLOG 5When President Clinton named Sheila Widnall the first woman Secretary of the Air Force in 1993, women had only been admitted to training programs for combat aircraft two years earlier. She was the first woman to lead any branch of the U.S. military in the Defense Department.

After receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees at MIT, Sheila Widnall became a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and was the first woman to chair a department at MIT. She filled this role before and after she was Secretary of the Air Force.

The scope of her responsibilities was staggering. She controlled a $62 billion budget that supported 815,000 personnel, military men and women on active duty and reserve duty as well as civilians in support positions. During her tenure the Air Force issued a long-range vision statement designed to define the future of the air forces in the twenty-first century.

She is the author of some 70 publications that would require a degree in a STEM field to understand. The Women’s International Center (WIC) describes her as “master pilot, astrophysicist, aeronautical genius, lauded educator, prolific writer, loved and loving wife and mother and compassionate human being. . .”


To read the full text of her WIC biography, click on:

For a list of her accomplishments, go to MIT at:


Did you ever consider science or the military as a career?