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MAKING HISTORY: The Lawsuit That Led To Women in the NYC Firehouse

In honor of Women's History Month, we are celebrating with 31 days of women's history! Every day in March, we will highlight an historic moment, as told through the personal stories of our MAKERS. Today we highlight the class-action lawsuit filed by MAKER Brenda Berkman that successfully led to women in the NYC Firehouse.

In 1977, after Title VII was adopted by city and state governments, the FDNY allowed women to take the entry exam. The physical exam, however, was not the same test presented to previous male applicants, and none of the 90 female applicants passed due to its unparalleled rigor. Berkman then filed the sex discrimination complaint that would change that.

Five years later, Judge Charles P. Sifton ruled that the 1977 test did not measure abilities truly needed for the job and that the FDNY must develop a new test. In 1982, 42 women passed the test and became the first female firefighters in the history of the FDNY. Berkman stayed on the force for 24 years and was eventually promoted to Captain.

In Berkman's own words:

"One person CAN make a change. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but one person can make a change."

To learn more about the incredible history of women firefighters in New York City, check out the Labor Arts website, a joint project of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation and The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives/Tamiment Library at New York University, devoted to the history of work and working people.