Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Profile

Brenda Berkman

First NYC Female Firefighter

More From Brenda

In this video

Brenda Berkman on integrating the FDNY and the steep price she and others paid to win equality.

Brenda's Biography

Cause of Choice: Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School
Role Models:  Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan
Trial Run: Before taking on the FDNY, she worked as a lawyer on sexual discrimination cases brought by female NYPD officers.
Awards and Accolades: In 1996-97, she served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship.

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude graduate of St. Olaf College and was practicing law with a New York University J.D. when, in 1977, the Department began, grudgingly, to allow women to test for firefighter positions. The young lawyer, and FDNY applicant, challenged the fairness and relevance of the newly intensified physical test and won a federal sex discrimination lawsuit that truly opened the Department to female firefighters for the first time. Berkman was among the first class of women hired.
Captain Berkman has led organizations of women’s firefighters in both the New York City and nationally while earning one Master’s in American History and another in Fire Protection Management. By now, Berkman’s deep commitment to her Department and to the people of New York has long outlasted the sexual and workplace harassment that came with her pioneering career. To honor friends and colleagues who were lost on 9/11, she volunteers as a guide for walking tours at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Related Videos

Alix Kates Shulman
Alix Kates Shulman
Feminist Writer & Activist

Alix Kates Shulman is a feminist activist and writer who has penned fourteen books including her bestselling novel, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, considered one of the first of its ...

Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Pioneer of Black Women's Studies

As one of the leading African-American feminist scholars of our time, Beverly Guy-Sheftall was instrumental in bringing the women’s studies movement to women of color, and th...

Mia Hamm
Mia Hamm
Champion Soccer Player

Mia Hamm is the soccer champion widely regarded as the world's best all-around women's soccer player. At 15 she became the youngest woman to ever make the U.S. Women's ...

Judith Jamison
Judith Jamison
Artistic Director Emerita, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and over the next 15 years, originated some of Mr. Ailey's most enduring roles, most n...